Friday, 28 May 2010

Julie and Julia

Or is it Julia and Julie... regardless of which it is, I definitely recommend this film. I watched it last weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. It has made me wish I had more energy to cook, but we can't have everything and I did discover that we owned a copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Our copy is a slightly tatty Penguin copy from about 1963 that belonged originally to my dad and that has been sitting unobtrusively on our bookshelves for years without me taking any notice of it. I'm glad that I have because it does seem to contain some rather splendid recipes, though I regret to announce that I am not currently harbouring any plans to cook everything in it as in the film. Were I to try such a challenge with a French cookbook I think I would try Joanne Harris' The French Kitchen (would I be allowed off the fish section? I've tried to like fish and just can't). The pictures alone of this book are a delight and the recipes are clear and work well as many delicious dinners will attest. As she is married to a vegetarian there are an usual number of meat free recipes too; unusual in French cuisine.

Another book I would consider trying all the recipes from would be Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery, a book previously mentioned on this blog. For now my next culinary experiment could well be a foray into 'water ices', otherwise referred to as 'sorbet' or 'granita', probably using the recipe in Elizabeth David's Italian Food. She makes the whole process sound so easy as to inspire confidence and the weather has been delightfully warm this week, which is an added incentive. Modern freezers make water ices a far easier proposition than in the days of Mrs Rundell, Mrs Beeton or Hannah Glasse, when a barrel of ice with several handfuls of salt added was necessary, though I would be interested to try Mrs Rundell's recipe for brown bread ice cream.

I'm increasingly interested in old cook books, a love that started when I first found my parents facsimile edition of Mrs Beeton and now I own a small collection of old books of recipes and household management, including one from 1936 and a the Persephone books reprint of Mrs Rundell's cookbook (first published 1806). Although I am yet to get my hands on a copy of any of Eliza Acton's books or of those of Hannah Glasse's 18th Century cook books and I'm sure there are many others out there. Interestingly Hannah Glasse's 1747 work implores readers not to overcook vegetables - apparently the cry of cookery writers across the centuries.

Accordingly I read the extract of Bill Bryson's new book Home that appeared in the Guardian newspaper a couple of weeks ago with considerable interest. And thanks to my slightly odd interest in old cook books I did discover one discrepancy. He asserts that,

" 1845, a poet in Kent named Eliza Acton wrote Modern Cookery For Private Families. It was the first book to give exact measurements and cooking times..."

However, both Mrs Rundell's A New System of Domestic Cookery (1806) and Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747), predating Eliza Acton's work, use weights and measures and give times for cooking things. True they do not use them universally through their cook books; but where it matters, such as in baking bread or cakes, they give more exactly quantities, than in say making a soup or stew, where it matters less. Mrs Rundell's work is a little more practical for modern life than Hannah Glasse's, which stipulates such items as "new milk hot from the cow". However, I would not wish to make a cake from either, since the icing requires whisking for three hours - all I can say is that they must have had stronger arms than I do!

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