Food file Marie- Claire Digby’s food 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.