My Des(s)ert Island Cookery Books

Like many cooks I have far too many cookery books so I’m trying to decide on my desert island list.

1. The Times Cookery Book by Katie Stewart (1972)
This is annoyingly out of print but I have an Abebooks alert to try and buy second-hand copies as it’s the absolutely the most useful cookery book for basic, traditional and 100% reliable recipes – from gravy to apple crumble. It has all the old favourites from my childhood like Chocolate Fudge Pudding (known as a ‘self-saucing’ pudding or Chocolate Upside Pudding), or (now Feast of Reason signature dish) Queen of Puddings. As a child I loved the The Pooh Cookery Book which she published in 1979. (UPDATE January 2013 Sadly Katie Stewart has died. This obituary is a reminder that until she came along recipe books were too often unimaginative and laborious: “For 12 years she equipped the middle classes with the wherewithal to entertain. Not only were the recipes foolproof, but she was careful to lay the right foundations with a host of tips, wheezes and advice for general kitchen conduct (making mayonnaise in a blender is one happy thought; her planning for Christmas was exemplary).”

cookscompanion2. The Cook’s Companion – Stephanie Alexander
A brilliant very large reference book which covers almost everything, ever, arranged by ingredients from abalone to zuchinni. I like the layout, the varied and imaginative recipes come from all kinds of places (eg handed down from family, restaurants, other cookery books, and she always sites her sources) supplemented by loads of extra recipe notes in the margins, and lists of what goes with each ingredient. She is Australian so covers kangaroo, wallaby and yabbies, all of which I plan to cook someday. This would be the perfect present but tragically it is out of print and impossible to get hold of. (UPDATE August 2014 there is now an app that I haven’t tried yet.)

3. How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food – Nigella Lawson (1999)
I am a big fan of Nigella’s recipes as you can tell from this blog. But I think How to Eat is the best of all her books as she actually writes about food, in her elegant and intelligent style.The format of her later tv books (glossy pic, with a recipe opposite) doesn’t interest me so much.  I guess this was written back in the last century when food was just food. I return to this book for about ten essential recipes that I use again and again – but more importantly to remind myself why I cook and why it is important, whether it’s for myself and other people.

4. The Flavour Thesaurus – Niki Segnit (2010)
I was given this by dad for Christmas. It’s a signed copy, so I was fed up when the slugs crawled all over it and chewed the edge. (They rampage around my kitchen at night). It’s fantastic for new ideas and I pick it up when I’m gazing into the larder or spice drawer needing inspiration. She has taken basic flavours and worked out all the things that go well together.

5. The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century – Amanda Hesser (2010)
Perhaps a book for reading in bed, I haven’t used it that much (yet), but it’s crammed full of interesting ideas I plan to try one day.. Also it would make a great present as a substitute for the out-of-print Cook’s Companion. NY Times readers were asked for their favourite recipes and Hesser chose 1,000 of them and tested ALL of them! The best things about the book are mixing up the old recipes (some from the 1850s) alongside newer ones, and Hesser’s witty commentaries. She has started a good recipe website called Food52.

6. Cooking in Ten Minutes – Edouard de Pomaine 
On my list for nostalgic reasons as I barely use this book but remember it from my grandparents’ quite small collection of cookery books and now I have their copy. It was often referred to, and so much a part of their kitchen that I used to think Pomaine was someone they knew (but perhaps he was?)

To be continued…