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This review is from: Elizabeth David Classics: "Mediterranean Food", "French Country Cooking" and "Summer Cooking" (Hardcover)
LONG SHELF LIFE
Elizabeth David - Summer Cooking.
We are truly blessed these days with a stunning array of seasonal cookery books. Seasonal eating, it could be said is the new Rock and Roll - at least if you are of a certain age that is.
Seriously though, to coin a foodie phrase, we can now cherry pick cookery books to reflect where we are in the eating calendar, and be delighted by the crop of a particular month, or the catch of the day.
As there is rarely anything new under the sun, it will come as no surprise that Elizabeth David's Summer Cooking has been gracing the kitchen bookshelf for a staggering fifty five years.
Writing against a back drop of post- war Britain, she was the prime innovator to broaden the palate of the British public. She persuaded them to use olive oil to cook rather than to syringe sore ears, and to venture to try the more exotic produce that inch by inch was moving towards the counters of the nation's shopkeepers.
In this book, she boldly challenges a country's appetite to educate it back to the delights of seasonal eating. Following the years of Austerity, housewives had become slaves to providing food for their tables, rather than relishing it. Deep freezing had made its way into domestic homes, and the frozen pea reigned supreme. Summer Cooking was a path to follow where eating food in season could once again be enjoyed.
This book is a winner in every way.. It is compact , and could even be slipped into the smallest of bag allowances for trips to far away destinations, should the fancy take you. It is quite a feat of paperback engineering too, housing in excess of a thousand recipes. When you consider that most newer generation cookbooks brag a modest hundred, it's incredible value for money despite its size.. Small truly is beautiful.
Quality, is where it stands alone though. Here is a book that is a standard bearer in terms of the narrative that precedes the recipes. It has no glossy photos, and relies entirely on its words to paint a mental image of each dish, coaxed into reality by its writer. It pays homage to fresh, seasonal food in a way that the British public had never seen before. If it's fresh, buy it, cook it, eat it. It's a simple as that.
As the selection of summer foods is so vast, it gave the reader of the time an alternative to the slavishly followed dictates of nineteen fifties' British cooking . She affirmed that is really was acceptable to have a crab and rice salad followed by summer pudding in place of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and a lump of treacle tart. Yes it really was.
There is a vibrant offering inside to excite even the twenty first century palate: Picnic menus for all manner of occasions, holiday food for those with reduced cooking kit, buffets where food can be prepared well in advance, allowing the cook to join the assembled eaters, and so much more.
The summer staple of tuna makes an appearance, under the guise of tunny fish, and is an ingredient in the Italian classic Vitello Tonnato. In fact there is a strong Mediterranean theme throughout, allowing for the fact that many families would be now holidaying on the its coastline, and so could enjoy a wider, slightly exotic offer of fresh produce. When they returned, they would seek out ways to reproduce the recipes of the regions they visited. This book would provide them.
The recipes reflect the essence of the simplistic nature of eating in the hotter months. Food such as eggs, meat and fish can have a minimum of preparation and be enjoyed for their own sake, with a green salad and some good bread and wine. Tomato Omelette, Sole au Vert, and Spiced Grilled Chicken are fine examples of this principle. Vegetables offer all manner of suggestions, with the widest possible choice of fresh produce being available and in season. Peperonata and Courgettes au Jambon are just a few examples of the strong Mediterranean influences in David's writing. Summer fruits, notably the berries, are explored and turned into water ices, tarts and jellies, although she suggests that there is no finer summer dessert than a bowl of fresh fruit and cream. I tend to agree with her.
Should you choose to buy the book, the table of contents should really be carefully studied before it is truly explored, as it will reveal an undeniable fact: Her writings are the blueprints for pretty much every summer season cookbook that has followed on from that time. Yes, there may be twists and turns, huge colour photos and the extra sprig of coriander here and there, but they reflect, indeed celebrate that this modest book is the source of their inspiration.
My copy is part of a rare boxed set of her works, published by Penguin. No surprises here that half a century on, the same publisher is still producing it, and that Summer Cooking is stocked in pretty much every bookshop in the land. Few other cookbooks can claim that honour.