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Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Les­lie Geddes-brown

IWAS re-read­ing The Pedant in the Kitchen, Ju­lian Barnes’s witty col­lec­tion of es­says, when I came across his rules for keep­ing cook­ery books—or get­ting rid of them. By chance, my great-niece, Daisy, has a char­ity stall that’s pin­ing for them, so I started a cull. My col­lec­tion runs into the hun­dreds. I haven’t time to count them all, but the cup­board in the kitchen that houses the ones I use most holds 205. There are other book­cases with less use­ful books and this is where I started my ram­page.

I fol­lowed Ju­lian’s ad­vice— I used to work with him and know it’s usu­ally sound—so first to go was Around the World in 80 Dishes af­ter his ad­vice: ‘Avoid books with too wide a com­pass.’ The same could ap­ply to too small, such as Recipes from the Woods, which goes on about wild mush­rooms you can’t buy here and wild boar, ditto. Land of Fish and Rice was a ca­su­alty when it rec­om­mended West Lake grass carp and rib­bon­fish in its recipes, as well as lotus leaves.

I took an in­stant dis­like to Ray­mond Blanc’s Le Manoir Aux Quat’saisons, an in­sider’s ref­er­ence to his res­tau­rant, largely be­cause all the pho­to­graphs are so per­fect and the recipes unattain­able, by me any­way. When it of­fered a chap­ter on ‘A Glimpse Be­hind the Scenes’, I knew this would be full of pic­tures of smil­ing wait­resses and busy sous chefs. I would rather an im­age of a fu­ri­ous chef throw­ing hot tomato sauce over an underling, which I know does hap­pen, or, at least, a scream­ing row be­tween staff, which means that your rare steak will be, at best, late or, at worst, not rare at all.

Ju­lian’s rec­om­men­da­tion is never to buy a chef’s book that’s on dis­play in their res­tau­rant: ‘Re­mem­ber, that’s why you went there in the first place.’ I would add never buy a chef’s book wher­ever you spot it, es­pe­cially if said chef is grin­ning toothily on the cover. It’s just self-pub­li­cis­ing. I would es­pe­cially ig­nore any­thing by Jamie Oliver or Mary Berry, plus books writ­ten by pretty young girls—they aren’t pretty and slim be­cause they like food. Sim­i­larly, I would ban any book on ‘healthy eat­ing’. If you don’t eat—how­ever un­healthily —you will starve.

Be­fore you start to think I’m a cur­mud­geonly old bat, here’s a few I do keep: any­thing by re­cent ar­rival Rachel Roddy (only two so far), Peter Mckay (de­spite the ugly de­sign of his cover) or by David Ta­nis, de­spite his be­ing Cal­i­for­nian. Ob­vi­ously, the two greats El­iz­a­beth David and Jane Grig­son are still in­dis­pens­able and es­chew lus­cious pho­to­graphs. I’m keen on Polpo and Spuntino for their lively de­sign and sur­pris­ingly easy recipes and on Nigel Slater, who makes cook­ing fun, which it should be.

I agree with Ju­lian that old copies of the clas­sics, splat­tered with afore­men­tioned tomato sauce, are prefer­able to up­dated ver­sions and that most books should be given a sec­ond chance.

The one that es­caped the cull is I Love Food by Clare Macpher­songrant Rus­sell, the Lady Laird of Ballindal­loch Cas­tle in Banff­shire. This is not only be­cause there’s a chap­ter on recipes for dogs, along with photos of Rose, Poppy, Blue­belle and Jas­mine, but be­cause of her Ballindal­loch short­bread recipe. My book still has a post­card dated 2006 from a COUN­TRY LIFE reader who saw it: ‘I used it once or twice and was de­lighted. It was not only de­li­cious, but to­tally un­com­pli­cated as well. Then I lost it.’ She asked me to send an­other copy, which I hope she’s still us­ing.

I re-read the recipe and it does truly sound both de­li­cious and easy. The reader adds a PS: ‘I am a sub­scriber and didn’t read it at the den­tist.’ I don’t mind where she read it; a good short­bread recipe is some­thing to trea­sure.

‘I would rather an im­age of a fu­ri­ous chef throw­ing hot tomato sauce over an underling

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