My cookbook collection grows. When we moved into this flat four years ago, I brought with me a desert island stash. The bare minimum of books I needed for comfort and sustenance. Yes, you can look up the quantities for anything you want on the web, and this blog serves as my own aide memoire. But curling up with a cookbook is different. And then of course I bought a few, and then a few more, and there were so many finds at charity shops and book fairs, and that pesky free super-saver delivery. And they pile up. Literally. They are all over the house. And that’s all right. Right?
I used to justify a cookbook if I used three recipes. Then I whittled it down to one. Now I’m fine if I find a sensible tip, and fine, too, if I just enjoy reading it. The right kind of cookbook gives you a window into other lives, like any other good book. I like the kind of books that make me feel as if I’ve been taken to somebody’s house, allowed to roam the kitchen, open the cupboards, rummage in the drawers, see the photos on the fridge, lift the lid on what’s cooking. And this I like to gather from the text, not from the photos. Most of my favourite cookbooks have no pictures, maybe a few elegant black and white illustrations.
Right now, in order to qualify for staying on my bookshelves, I mostly have to like the author, and everything follows from there, because a likeable author will make me like the food in the book, and nudge me into trying something new, or making something old again.
Recently I was given a copy of Cooking for crowds, by Merry White, the 40th anniversary edition of the 70’s original. And it ticks all the boxes. The recipes look great, but mostly the author sounds like somebody I’d love to have dinner with. There are no photos, which is more than fine, as it has lots of sweet black and white drawings by Edward Koren.
As with all cookbooks, there is more than a touch of the aspirational. In this case, be the sort of (supercool) person who has 50 guests and is ready to cook for them. Wouldn’t you love to be that person? Not only do you have fifty people around, but you are unflappable enough to serve them big, generous bowls of homstyle, yet sophisticated fare. And if you burn the borscht? Call it Smoked Borscht.
It’s a wonderful book for building confidence. Cooking for crowds, White insists, is not more difficult, just more time consuming, so there’s no excuse. Even better, if you do not have to, or want, to cook for fifty, the recipes come with different quantities. For 5o, for 25, for 12, for 6. See how easy 6 sounds? Anyone intimidated by cooking for 6 will have to admit it’s not that big a deal, compared with lugging sacks of potatoes that will feed 50.