Rainy day reading.
Today was a quiet day. Calm. Grey and a little wet outside. My husband was back to his classroom today, and my son to his, but my daughter was home with a fever, reveling in unlimited watching of Anne of Green Gables (because Mom has a soft spot for that mini-series) and taking a very long nap. I moved about, picking at the edges of my “to do” list with a few phone calls and one bathroom cupboard cleaned out, and enjoying a sense that my time was my own. Somewhat. I also took a minute, while munching on my makeshift lunch of cheddar cheese toast and bread ‘n butter pickles (my odd little comfort food), to dip into one of my favorite little books of food writing, “Is there a Nutmeg in the House?“. This collection is lovely in that you only need a few moments to read the short essays (most with recipes) by Elizabeth David. In fact, I found that they are a lot like reading blog posts. Uneven in quality, but little glimpses into what she was reading and cooking and eating. I don’t remember now how I was led to it, but I’m sure it was from another food writer, and since then it has stood alternately with my cookbooks and my bookshelf, equally at home with either, until I pick it up to read just a little bit more. Here and there.
Today I stopped long enough to read, “Homecooking” (about potato varieties in England and a rural food movement emerging in the 1980’s), and “A True Gentlewoman’s Delight” (about a book of “receipts” from 1658 that David uses to explore many aspects of society at the time- albeit briefly) [I put a couple short excerpts below]. Reading these two short pieces I began to wonder what it is that brings me back, again and again, to read cookbooks (I’ve read more of them than I’ve cooked out of) and other food writing. I read all sorts of things, but food writing gives me something else that I hadn’t quite put my finger on before. Today, as I moved about the kitchen loading the dishwasher, while I made some noodles for my children in the afternoon, and when I walked out into the misty grey afternoon to our white mailbox to grab the few envelopes waiting, I probed at the satisfaction I get from reading about other people’s experiences with food; their thoughts, cravings, and techniques. I don’t quite have it all, but I think it has a lot to do with this: When reading fiction I can enter that world only through my imagination. I conjure it, live with it there in my mind, but that is as far as I can go. When reading good food writers, I can enter their world first through my imagination, watch how they prepare something, hear where the recipe came from, learn their technique, imagine the taste–but then, I can have my imagination enter my own world, my life, by making the recipe myself. And even though I won’t make every recipe I read about, food writing holds that potential for me. Each and every time. I could make my imagination come alive, right here, in my own kitchen.
Now that brightened my grey day quite a bit.
Here is just a few excerpts from what I read today:
It’s a dull schoolboy who doesn’t collect things. Birds’ eggs and b utterflies are discouraged nowadays, matchboxes aren’t what they were, cigarette cards and model trains are for adults who to to auction prepared to spend the year’s rates three times over on a Dinky toy. The odd child prodigy does of course gather in Krugerrands, Stradivarius violins, London theatres, and lost Tom Keatings. But to collect potatoes like George V collected postage stamps it took a Scots schoolboy….” (“Home Cooking”, Elizabeth David)
“The receipts are written literately and with much style. Reading them one appreciates once again how closely the arts of medicine and cookery were related in the Countess of Kent’s day, although it has to be admitted that the less enticing brews of the period are not absent from the Kent manual. “Take three round Balls of Horse-dung, boil them in a pint of white wine”; “Take a Hound’s turd”; and for a Pin or Web in the Eye “take two or three lice out of one’s head, and put them alive into the eye that is grieved, and so close it up and most assuredly the lice will suck out the Web in the eye and will cure it and come forth without any hurt.” Such were conditions and the state of medicine in Stuart England.” (“A True Gentlewoman’s Delight”, Elizabeth David)
I don’t think I’ll be trying to bring these last recipes that are conjured into reality any time soon, but there was a recipe for “Aubergines with Garlic, Olive Oil and Tomatoes” on the page after “Home Cooking” that looks scrumptious.