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From an Eighties Cookbook to an As Yet Unnamed Salad
via Frugality, Food Waste and Inspiring Food Writers
Dearest Gentle Reader,
I know I said I was on holiday and I am but I was inspired and couldn’t wait to share my thoughts. I will say that these thoughts are very food focussed and there are no stories or folklore attached so if that is your favourite part, you will have to wait until I properly return.
I spent this morning in bed with tea, biscuits and cookbooks from archive.org and it was wonderful. It was actually research so it was a virtuous lie-in if such a thing is possible. A lot of the books that I was looking at were from the late seventies and early eighties and I was struck by how many of the recipes I wanted to make. A lot of them had no pictures to attract me but that’s not unusual for me as I spend so much time with historic cookbooks. The food photography was very staged and dated to those used to stylish modern food books but again I have shared my love for a set of Marks and Spencer Cookbooks that are nearly as old as me so that’s nothing new either.
What I think was so surprising was how many of the recipes I could make without leaving my house or sourcing ingredients online and how frugal they were whilst still being exciting and without being overly virtuous. I love a book with substantial soups and/or breads chapter and these delivered. I haven’t even got to wait until it gets warmer with soups like ‘Hot or Chilled Dill Soup’, ‘Turkish Borscht’ or ‘Cold Tomato Soup with Basil’. I probably will wait until its a bit chillier for the ‘Hot Yoghurt Soup’ ‘Potato & Caraway Soup’, the ‘Moist Pumpernickel’ and the ‘Rye Oatmeal Bread with Anise and Raisins’ (If anyone wants to read this cookbook in full you can find it here.)
We increasingly value recipes which minimise food waste and reduce impact on the environment and a lot of these cookbooks (definitely not all) from the seventies and early eighties seem to do that if only because sourcing ingredients that were more unusual was much harder without the internet so more of the ingredients would have been available locally to the writer. Food waste was also less of an issue when it was expected that leftovers would naturally form the basis of another meal. I’m not looking back with rose-tinted glasses though. There were very straightened times in the seventies and early eighties and these books were very much making a virtue out of necessity by not wasting food.
I will definitely be making as many of these recipes as I can and I’m looking forward to being able to do so without stretching my food budget in these straightened times. Obviously not all of these are going to be hits and I have found myself missing the stories that accompany the recipes as well as the sourcing of ideas that have prompted the recipe. This is much more common today where good food writers acknowledge the places and cultures that inspired the recipes even if the recipe itself would be unrecognisable in the place of its birth.
I am also aware that these recipes will only form part of my diet and that although Katie Stewart and Delia Smith were stalwarts in my home whilst I was growing up, so was Madhur Jaffrey. My food experiences would have been much poorer without the little Sainburys cookbooks with recipes for foods from all over the world. These older cookbooks are still valuable, enabling us to use some of wisdom of earlier generations of food writers to influence us in the kitchen whilst still learning from and being inspired by contemporary authors and the exciting new ingredients they bring. Our ability to be creative with food only increases as we build upon our knowledge, layer by layer from those who go before us.
In the spirit of this I am going to share my lunch salad with you, which was glorious. It came in part because I needed to use up leftovers (poached chicken) and ingredients that are at their peak today but won’t survive the night if not used up (flat peaches, big bunch of basil and mint, gorgeously indulgent Gorgonzola al Cucchiaio). The inspiration for the combination of fruit & meat and the generous use of herbs was inspired by Persian food from the books of Sabrina Ghayour. The inspiration for the use of a vinaigrette as well as a drizzled dressing is definitely from Diana Henry who taught me everything I know about layering bold flavours. The inspiration for using fruit and blue cheese together came from Vivian Howard and her book Deep Run Roots which celebrates the flavours of North Carolina. If you haven’t tried her recipe yet for beetroot & blue cheese salad with orange and pecans you have a wonderful experience ahead.
My lunch salad was chicken & herb salad with flat peaches & gorgonzola dressing and is pictured below. I dressed a handful each of wild rocket, mint & basil leaves and sliced cucumber with an olive oil & red wine vinaigrette ,then added pieces of tender poached chicken and ripe, juice dripping flat peach chunks and then dressed it with a dressing made with a little greek yoghurt and spoonable gorgonzola whizzed together (I could have drunk the dressing on its own).
I did drink it with tooth-tinglingly cold iced sparkling water with lemon & cucumber slices and mint leaves but it would be equally amazing with iced mint tea or a glass of perfectly cold Provencal rosé. A perfect lunch that I dreamed up and prepared in around 15 minutes. I would have kept this to myself but it turns out that whilst it takes some knowledge, inspiration, experiences and skills to make a creative cook, it only takes 7 minutes to demolish a fabulous salad. I was so sad that it was so fleeting that I had to share it with all of you to give it a chance of immortality. It is highly unlikely that I will have all these ingredients together by chance again so this is probably its last outing.
I must now bring this letter to a close and return to my holiday but please don’t hesitate to get in touch via the comments or via any of my social media profiles/my website . If you have enjoyed this and would like to read further such nonsense and have not yet subscribed, please don’t hesitate to subscribe for free at the button below. You’d be very welcome and it would be a joy to write to you.