Saturday, 14 April 2012

Books that I have Eaten

As I have mentioned, my house is built of books and this includes the kitchen. I have so many cookbooks but I find it difficult to part with any of them. I may have only read some, but others I have loved and drooled over and returned to the same page again and again- you can tell by the sticky marks or the floury dusting that escapes in clouds when the book is pulled from the shelf. Some books I have had to buy again as the first copy has become so battered. No pun intended.

Part of my past life involved being a buyer for Marks and Spencer in the Book Department. So I have so many memories of how we composed books, food shoots, recipe submissions and trial tastings. We were part of the 'Every recipe tested' series. Oh my, how we tested and tasted and ate them.

I am not going to start at the beginning, or my beginning, because cooking has been around since mankind discovered fire, and the thing about food is that is all experimental. One taste or one smell can remind you of something else and it is creative rather than chronological. In my cook books emotions are also stored like invisible photographs. These are the only printed books I write in. A comment on the result, a date, an amendment or addition. When I arrived in the Book Department, after a circuitous route around Bedrooms Kitchens, Lighting and Clocks [you have to have been a M&S Selector to understand this], I  joined an established team of amazing people, all of whom had fought the old regime of, once a buyer always a buyer whatever you bought . Knickers and men's socks included . To be part of the book team was so special, you arrived and if it suited, you never left. In those days, producing a book was like making a baby, it took nine months. Nine months of reading a manuscript, testing , tasting and editing recipes, choosing photographs and a front cover. Never mind the china that is a later chapter. Then your book arrived in a brown box to be examined , every page, yes every page,  if it passed it gained  the coveted gold seal and only then it was released into the shops.

So to start this journey through the books I have eaten. I am going back to the small but exquisite Little Books of Delight, Chocolate Cakes and Strawberries. These books were slightly controversial.  They had broken outside the mold of one look and one size for all titles in a range . They made a strike for individuality with the help and guidance of our publisher Century Benham Ltd. But we loved this dare.

 So amazing these one offs or rather a duo. Like naughty children , Strawberries and chocolate cake , passion and indulgence. They were conceived as gifts rather than books at they did not fit into the product range. They were not the same shape or format as the rest of the titles, they were on their own. But they were beautiful, they shrieked 'buy me' ,' make me' , 'love me', 'eat me'! Now, over twenty years later I can say they have earned their place on my bookshelves. I love them, I use them , I make beautiful things and  I remember process of a dummy book and  sheets of recipes evolving into books . I remember presenting the concepts at the range reviews, in front of  Directors and making a stand for the their presence as part of that season's collection. I remember their conception and how we would plot and scheme to make them part of our range.
We were pioneer women, we would break the established presentation and it was exciting, it was daring. Books were books and gifts were gifts, and we wanted to make a connection, because that is what food is, a connection, where words and the unspoken mix in a sublime concoction of perfection that result in a smile that speaks volumes without a word being spoken. Fingers to pursed lips blow a kiss of exquisite enjoyment if the dish delights.


You need fingers to enjoy these 'Strawberries in Chocolate' from Olive Odell's Strawberries. Fingers to dip, fingers to twist so that you cover the red pitted soft fruit, fingers to eat and then fingers to lick.


This is from the Chocolate Cakes by Polly Tyrer and is 'Mrs Short's Chocolate Cake'. It contains chocolate, marmalade and brandy and is perfectly yummy after an afternoon of gardening.

 So now when I make strawberries dipped in chocolate or chocolate cakes,  I remember our meetings devising glorious dishes of perfection, perfection outside the box of regulation.

 So, please enjoy my journey through the books that I have eaten.

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