Food file Marie- Claire Digby’s food news

The Irish Times Magazine - - NEWS -

I love the smell of old cook­books. That musty nut­ti­ness as you raise them to your nose. Turn­ing page after crin­kled page, their rough edges ca­ress­ing your fin­ger­tips. Is this a phe­nom­e­non of our dig­i­tal age? The fact that we start to miss things only after they are gone. Are cook­books a thing of the past? Can they com­pete with the vast tracts of recipes avail­able at the tap of a key­board?

If any­thing, the ma­te­rial as­pects of cook­books, par­tic­u­larly as they age, is what gives them life. One such book I found re­cently gave me a re­fresh­ing win­dow into the past and by con­se­quence a re­flec­tion on how we cook now. A Cal­en­dar of Food and Wine ( 1949) fea­tures a col­lec­tion of monthly food­stuffs in sea­son, and de­tailed recipes and wines to ac­com­pany them.

Though some as­pects of the book ap­pear very dated, such as “Eggs in as­pic”, sev­eral were so con­tem­po­rary that I im­me­di­ately took to sketch­ing some down to use in our restau­rant, Aniar. “Black­berry and beet­root chut­ney” seemed the per­fect condi­ment to ac­com­pany our Ir­ish farm­house cheese plat­ter.

What I loved about these recipes was that they seem crafted to suit the home cook. Their sim­plic­ity at­tests to a great re­spect for the reader. Per­haps the big ex­cep­tion is the heav­ily spiced char­ac­ter of the chut­ney, which has mace, gin­ger and curry pow­der, pep­per­corns, mus­tard and cayenne: just to taste! In my own ver­sion, I leave these spices out and al­low the nat­u­ral flavour of the beet­root and black­ber­ries.

Com­bine 450g of black­ber­ries and beet­root in a pot with 100g of chopped ap­ples and onions, and two bay leaves. Add 200ml malt vine­gar and 200g brown sugar. Bring to the boil and sim­mer un­til it is, as the writer notes, “cooked and suit­ably thick. Pour into jars and cover and cool.”

We pre­serve so lit­tle in our daily lives. This au­tumn get out there and make a few jars of some­thing. It’ll save you hav­ing to buy Christ­mas presents.

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