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Everything but the squeak
on 9 January 2011
Grigson writes in same vein as Elizabeth David; anecdotal, intimate, discursive. She starts off by taking us into the charcutier's shop to select a picnic; what a delightful idea, and one that gets us immediately in the right frame of mind to approach the subject, but a little heady for the beginner. We are plunged straight away into discussing the right kinds of bread and wine, the selection of picnic stoves, the cuts of pork, and the translation of weights and measures.
From this we move to "Charcuterie Equipment", taking us from buying in the shop to creating at home. While some of the equipment can be improvised easily, other items are likely to be expensive and the days of picking them up on junk stalls at rural markets for a few pence are long gone.
Now equipped, and braced by a section on spices, herbs and sauces, we are plunged into the world of nose-to-tail eating. Many of the recipes, such as those for pates and sausages, are suitable for the ordinary enterprising cook, although at first reading they appear daunting. Others are for the more adventurous, happy to source the ingredients. If you are the Fearnley-Whittingstall type who is killing their own pig, no problem; but in rural areas buying half a pig isn't too tricky. If you don't keep pigs, much of the offal, ironically, will be more easily sourced in the conservative North than in the affluent South of the UK.
Curing your own bacon and ham is usually considered a specialist job, and personally I am a bit daunted by the prospect of attempting something so redolent of the risks of food poisoning. It would also be difficult, even for the smallholder, to get some of the ingredients (5 pints of blood?) unless the chap slaughtering your pig is very co-operative; butchers will often hang onto some of the offal unless you specifically ask for it. On the other hand, the reassurance of those who have commented on this review makes me keener to give it a go.
When this book was written (1967), charcuterie wasn't really available to the ordinary shopper, and day trips to France on the Eurostar mere pipe dreams. On the other hand, local pork butchers and small slaughterhouses were still routine. Even so, I wonder how many cooks actually attempted many of the recipes in those days. While it is charmingly written and very thought-provoking, it is no longer the only practical book for the ordinary cook. Up-to-date, well illustrated alternatives are available; however friends have had problems with the recipes in some. It would seem that this book still earns its place on the shelf, ahead of some of its flashier modern counterparts.