A glance at your cookbooks instantly reveals the most prized. Perversely they’re the tattiest: dog-eared, sprouting improvised bookmarks. Not coffee-table gastroporn but useful and readable. Seek out these classic authors and watch their pages gain food stains and lose covers.
The multi-faceted Carrier – restaurateur, broadcaster, writer, OSS spy – described himself as a sensualist, for which read his use of cream, brandy, butter and wine would make Nigella blush. But the precision of the step-by-step recipe style he developed for cards and books endeared him to seventies cooks new to ‘entertaining’. His food was predominantly Mediterranean, French, Spanish and Moroccan, big on meat until a later apostatic veggie phase. The Robert Carrier Cookbook and Feasts of Provence make good introductions.
Anna del Conte
Del Conte, resident here since 1949, published her first book in 1976 when already in her fifties. She is the great advocate of simplicity and subtlety in Italian cooking, of balanced two-course menus that let fine ingredients shine. Secrets from an Italian Kitchen is worth una dozzina books of what she slates as 'Britalian' food. Her Gastronomy of Italy offers a deeper exploration of the same cuisine.
The man who famously owned a turbotière (a giant pan for cooking a whole turbot) before a frying pan, Davidson was a fish fanatic whose Mediterranean Seafood and North Atlantic Seafood mix marine-biology and gastronomy. A diplomat – eventually British ambassador to Laos – his travels gave him access to fish markets and restaurants worldwide, his findings recorded in scholarly but endlessly fascinating style – if you buy a fish or marine mollusc Davidson will have multiple recipes for it.
Mother of the now better-known Sophie, Jane Grigson was Elizabeth David’s contemporary and rival, if anything more learned than David and writing recipes far easier to follow. She published many books, the first Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery arguably the best, great for anyone wanting to make or just buy pâtés and saucisson. Her Vegetable Book is a similarly rich source of information. Above all Grigson’s erudition grabs you: her books can be read not just referred to.
Edouard de Pomiane
A French nutritionist of Polish extraction, de Pomiane (originally Pozerski) is a writer frequently cited as influential by chefs, his two most famous works equally seminal. Cooking with Pomiane is at once amusing and scientific, demystifying French cookery to make it accessible for home cooks while simultaneously considering nutritional issues; and Cooking in Ten Minutes, published in 1930, predates the quick-cooking oeuvres of Nigel Slater and Jamie Oliver by half a century and more (and made a wonderful dramatised cookery show in the mid-nineties)
What are your top five fave cook books?
These links may also be of interest: