Shelf help

August 7, 2009

cookbooksToday’s post is inspired by two things – first, the empty space we now have in our new cookbook shelves; and second, our chat here about Julia Child, and especially Julie’s & Fiona’s recollections of working from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which Fiona so beautifully described as “my first cooking book mother – the human mother being a frozen chop sort of cook…”

Now, as you can see, in place of our crappy old single cookbook shelf jammed into a corner of the living room are these spacious purpose-built cookbook shelves in the kitchen itself (I know, the top one is a leetle cramped, but good for mags perhaps?)

So I discover to my delight that we need more cookbooks. We did chuck out a few duds when we cleared the place for the reno, so pretty much only useful ones remain.

And all this Julia Child talk has made me think about classics I should own but do not – and I would love your advice. I want to hear about your ‘cookbook mother’ – the book that got you into cooking in a way your own mum didn’t.

I know we’ve touched on this via my Elizabeth David ramble here, but I want to hear more about your early cookery book love affairs. After Elizabeth, it was two Aussie blokes who led me up the kitchen garden path – Paul Merrony, with a slender (almost self-published-looking) book called The New French Cooking in Australia: Recipes from Merrony’s Restaurant, and the other was Geoff Slattery, with a very workable and appealingly instructive book called Simple Flavours. Both of these propelled me wonderfully towards fresh, simple yet classic dishes and flavour combinations. What about you?

And what about those classics every cook should have – you must have at least two or three on your shelves that One doesn’t?  Help me fill the void!

Postscript: A couple of recent birthdays round here have suddenly yielded two beauties since I wrote the above – Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and Greg & Lucy Malouf’s Saha: A chef’s journey through Syria & Lebanon. Happy, happy days in this house!


  1. Look at all that space for more cookbooks!Have fun filling the void.

  2. Jeez Charlotte, I so wish I had your problem! I might have mentioned to you my love of Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells (special order, BRTD will get it in for you if you can wait a couple of months). Cooking on the Bone by Jennifer McLagan is fab. And Street Food by James Mayson is another pearler, though perhaps a bit Asian for your tastes? I saw one recently which I don’t own YET but am very inclined to called something like Italian Country Cooking: the Secrets of Cucina Povera by Loukie Werle. Reckon you’d love it too. I wrote something on much loved cookbooks once – I’ll email it to you.

  3. I can see the trusty Stephanie Alexander on that shelf. If I could only have one, perhaps that would be it. Can anyone tell me if the revised edition is significantly better and worth getting?

    I have a Signor Slattery book- he held my non stirring hand while encouraging me to make risotto. Nigel Slater was my first real fast food cook book.
    Cooking with Pomiane, Edouard Pomiane translated in 1961 is a charming read.

    Have always been fond of Claudia Roden A book of Middle Eastern Food- new edition out in last few years and still available- I use a few recipes only again and again.Is that always the way?

    Will anyone propose Nigella or Jamie?

    • Julie, I’m the same with Claudia Roden but reckon her books are great references. I do her baba ganoush, her tabouleh and otherwise just revel in her writing. I don’t use Nigella much but have done the odd dessert which has been pretty good and I ADORE Pomiane. Hilarious! I love his frankness. Get this on white sauce: ‘This is a horrible sauce, but at least it can be improved according to your taste. Then in becomes enjoyable.’ He goes on to describe its method then says, ‘It is not a good sauce, let us admit it frankly. So never use it as it stands. Ennoble it. Transform it into the sauces which follow.’

  4. I have wondered the same thing about the new Stephanie A; anyone have both old and new to compare? And Jules I am a big Jamie Oliver fan, not so much for the recipes although I have one of his earlier books and it’s great, but I really love his take on getting good food to the masses, and growing food, and generally putting his money where mouth is in various ways.

    Nigella has always just annoyed me, to be frank, although I have eaten brilliant food done by others from her books. But all that finger-sucking girly shmoozy lets-flirt-with-the-fishmonger-then-buy-a-hundred-pound-bunch-of-flowers-and-bottle-of-Bolly-so-we-can-eat-sushi-on-the-couch-with-our-girlfriends-and-giggle stuff just sends me into seriously cranky old hag mode. Hrmph.

  5. AND Steph I am pretty keen on getting my hands on Patricia Wells after hearing your raves. Also Jane Grigson, if that’s where your husband’s Welsh lamb comes from, because it is to DIE for.

    • Husband’s Welsh lamb is from Grigson’s British Cookery, a delightful book. It’s a bit hard to navigate but is full of her excellent writing and gorgeous pics of ruddy cheeked cheese makers etc.

  6. Share the Stephanie query – I’ve been too mean to get the second one, imagining there must be at least a kilo’s overlap in content. Also used her ‘Menus for Food Lovers’ (falls open at p 126 Chocolate Tart, cooked a million times) and ‘Feasts and Stories’ a lot esp in 80s, early 90s.

    I return over and over to favourite recipes – in the orange bible the Sticky Toffee Pudding gives such a brilliant result (after what intially looks like a worryingly watery batter) that everyone I cook for has been served it many times. I once took it away for a weekend, at which I was the dessert cook, AS BATTER, and it cooked perfectly the following night.

    My big library gap is Claudia Roden’s ‘Middle Eastern Food’, although from other sources I do cook her recipes – incl the old standby whole orange and almond cake – which I’ve also cooked w lemons, limes and tangellos.

    But my favourite food writer is Jane Grigson. I have the vegetable book and the fruit book. They are sensational. Full of history, ideas, chat – truly satisfying reads. Beautifully indexed too. Despite some, to us, oddly long cooking times for eg asparagus – they suit the way I cook now, which is more produce based, I suppose: I’ve bought eggplant, what will I do with it – so to flip through a couple of books that segment recipes according to produce is handy.

    Charlotte you are hard on old Nigella! Yes, it’s all a bit twee, but I have to say I like the way she so obviously loves eating and cooking, but I didn’t have any of her books until a couple of weeks ago when I was in a second hand bookshop in Queenscliff flipping through ‘How to Eat’ which I dropped, bent, then felt I had to buy. It’s really good. A great first cookery book with lots of technique very clearly explained, and a nice sense of humour.

    I also have a shamefully messy drawer in the kitchen full of the recipes I tear out of newspapers or ask people for. But my burning question is: what does everyone do with their food magazines? It’s hard enough to chuck out a Gourmet Traveller, but I cannot part with a Cuisine, even if there’s nothing in it I’ve actually cooked.

  7. The one book that I can’t do without is a not-very-glamorous, aethetically unappealing book from the mid-nineties – From Tapas to Mezes: First Courses from the Mediterranean Shores of Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa by Joanne Weir. I love it for the recipes (of course) but also because of the enticing descriptions of where the recipes came from – which led me to one of my all-time favourite restaurants, La Merenda in Nice. Another staple is Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking. And as for food writing, what could be more appropriate for your blog, Charlotte, than the divine M.F.K. Fisher’s Consider the Oyster?

  8. Jane Grigson! Yes. I love her Fruit Book and her Vegetable Book – mainly for the writing I have to admit: companionable,wise and informative,though I have never cooked cardoons.

    Stephanie- lovely to find a fellow Pomiane fancier:
    No limit to the quotes but how about this reassuring comment about mussels:”… mussel poisoning is rare and never very serious….. If the stomach of a sufferer from mussel poisoning is artificially emptied,the symptoms disappear rapidly.”

  9. Forgot beautiful Madhur Jaffrey, for Indian food, and ‘Arabesque’, Greg and Lucy Malouf. Charlotte, was one of the birthdays yours? If so – Happy Birthday!

  10. ps. Can’t say I’ve ever cooked from the Pomiane book I have – so much calf head and breaded pig’s ear action – but fun to read – this, on an after dinner coffee and cigarette: ‘Send a puff of smoke slowly up to the ceiling. Sniff up the perfume of your coffee. Close your eyes. Dream of the second puff, of the second puff. You are fortunate. At the same time your gramaphone is singing very softly a tango or a rhumba.’

  11. Oh, this is fantastic stuff. I am loving your weirdo Pomiane, gals.

    Doesn’t it make contemporary celebrity chefs sound sooo dull by comparison? “For me, fresh produce is important and there’s nothing I like more than sharing a table with family and friends,” blah boring blah. Interesting how it seems contemporary chefs must be LIKED as well as admired/respected … can’t really see Bill Granger or Karen Martini giving a reader a boot up the arse for getting something wrong or being lazy, can you?

    And Ali your mezze motherlode, no matter how daggy, also sounds deeply appealing, especially right about now, just before lunch.

    I really must now get my hands on the Jane Grigson veg book, and also the Welsh lamb book (or just the recipe, Empress?). I am a Madhur Jaffrey fan too, Fiona. And I have Claudia Roden’s Arabesque which is fab, but I’m sure not as comprehensive as TBoMEF.

    And yes I know I’m harsh on ol’ Boobiana Lawson; perhaps a secondhand book is the way to learn to love her.

    The magazine disposal question is eternal and the reason I pretty much stopped buying them. Have enough trouble with piles of New Yorkers I can’t let go, and therefore count myself lucky never to have bought a Cuisine because that sounds as if it would only add to the tower.

    Husband’s birthday yesterday yielded yet more cookbooks! A slow cooking one and a Vietnamese, which both look great. And herb/veg gardening book! So my book space is happily shrinking, if not my personal lard supply…

  12. Concur on “the cooks companion” I have bought it for a few mates who are just getting into cooking.

    It was the early Naked Chef books that really got me going about 10? years ago, they were so easy to follow and seemed to get such good results.

    Can’t go past The River Cottage Meat Book, as a carnivore and one looking to raise and kill my own pig, beef and lamb, its a must.

    I also would buy any book that has Maggie Beers sour cream pastry recipe in it. As someone who is always making tarts and quiche to use up my large supply of duck eggs, its an absolute rolled gold winner.

  13. […] Back to the books August 30, 2009 Further to our very satisfying natter about cookbooks a couple of weeks back, I have now obtained the Empress’s informative and amusing cookbook […]

  14. Just a note to say a new edition of Cooking with Pomiane has come out in paperback- revised edition with 1976 foreword by Elizabeth David, garnished with woodcuts. (UK pounds 12.99 London Review of Books) It’s a lovely read apart from anything else, and ED’s comments of interest too.

  15. […] in my collection (mind you, it may shortly be replaced in my affections by the fabulous-looking Bistro Cooking, by Patricia Wells, which the Empress just gave […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: