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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

An Omelette and a Glass of Wine

At Elizabeth David’s Table

English Bread and Yeast Cookery

Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen

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Cookbook Collection:
Elizabeth David

On this page:

An Omelette and a Glass of Wine

At Elizabeth David’s Table

English Bread and Yeast Cookery

Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen

An Omelette and a Glass of Wine

An Omelette and a Glass of Wine I review books by many new authors, many smart young foodies and quite a few old stagers, who each have lots to offer the culinary opus. Elizabeth David is, depending on your viewpoint, either a shining star in a dazzling firmament or a treasure island in the sea of mediocrity.

It’s true that Elizabeth David has long (we are talking decades) been quoted and revered by the worthy and wise of the food industry. She is considered the Grande Dame of British cooking... or more accurately the British Queen of (not necessarily British) cooking. She wasn’t a Mrs. Beeton (too racy) or a Delia Smith (more a wordsmith) but she holds a place of high esteem in the mind of anyone who knows a fig about cooking.

An Omelette and a Glass of Wine is a book to dip into like a fine stockpot. It’s a book of collected articles and associated recipes that show the skill of this woman to great advantage. They were written between 1955 and 1984 for publications as diverse as Gourmet magazine and The Spectator. Each chapter holds a little gem of observation and wry humour. Yes, the food landscape has changed, both in Britain and in France, but this volume is still relevant and absorbing.

The Omelette immortalised in these pages is one cooked in the restaurant Molière (this is Elizabeth David so it wouldn’t be a bacon buttie in The Dog and Duck). She writes: “... Physically and emotionally worn to tatters by the pandemonium and splendour of the Avignon market, tottering under the weight of provisions we had bought and agonizing at the thought of all the glorious things which we hadn’t or couldn’t, we would make at last for the restaurant Molière to be rested and restored.” Then follows the recipe for a simple but delectable omelette. Not fussy and over-garnished but perfect in form and flavour.

An Omelette and a Glass of Wine will never be considered passé. It has an abundance of recipes for food lovers who want to cook, and has a wealth of anecdotes for cooks who want to dream. It’s a pleasure to read and reread, and a must for wanabe food writers.

An Omelette and a Glass of Wine
Author: Elizabeth David
Published by: Grub Street
Price: £14.99
ISBN 978-1-906502-35-5

food and travel reviews Elizabeth David

At Elizabeth David’s Table – Her very best everyday recipes

She was and still is one of our most celebrated food writers. Her first book was published in 1950 in those dark days after the Second World War finished and before normal life began again. One could liken her work to the equivalent of colour TV arriving in our sitting rooms. Yes, we had enjoyed the monochrome original, but how much more did we appreciate vibrant hues.

cookbook review Elizabeth David introduced the sober British public to the flavours of the South. Not the South of England, although she has always been proud of traditional English food, but those far off exotic climes of the Mediterranean coast. She plied us with pasta and that unfamiliar bread-based staple, pizza. (This collection has a lamb-topped Middle Eastern version as well as the more familiar European.) Her recipes might have seemed daring half a century ago but they are still prized these days for their timeless quality. Good food never goes out of style.

This book is a collection of some of her best and most accessible dishes. They are a broad selection that will give any reader new to the Grande Dame of cooking a sense of the woman’s passion for the good things of life. She was slightly outrageous and risqué and presented just what was needed to propel us out of the culinary doldrums.

I confess to being a fan of proper and un-cheffy food and this volume is a showcase for such dishes. Plenty of the classics, and a few which might be new to younger home cooks. They reflect the way we eat in the 21st century and present recipes for economic meals as well as those for celebrations. I have many favourites and they are mainly for the less pricey fare.

A simple and authentic slice of Alsatian Onion Tart is hard to beat. There are few ingredients but the result of those being sympathetically combined is memorable. The sweetness of the gently cooked onions is the epitome of comfort. Nutmeg is the spice of choice in this particular recipe, but I often substitute that with a little caraway seed.

Potato Pie is a crustless creation which makes the best of left-overs. A layer of mash, a layer of cheese and ham and boiled eggs, and a topping of more mash with a pouring of melted butter is baked in the oven. 1kg of potatoes will provide five or six people with a delicious meal, or perhaps it’s a meal for two greedy people on two consecutive weeknights. OK, it’s not quite as good the next day but it’s instant and much better than a takeaway when served with baked beans. Not smart, but I am sure Ms. David would approve.

It will soon be Christmas. Turkeys will be flying out of butchers’ shops to feed families of hungry revellers. But what of us folk with only two at the festive table? A whole turkey would be outfacing and a chicken hardly marks the day as special. Elizabeth David offers Turkey Breasts with Marsala. This dish can be increased if friends decide that your dinner sounds a bit more interesting than the usual roast bird.

At Elizabeth David’s Table is a gift-quality collection of some of the best from this mighty writer. Great value for money.

Cookbook review: At Elizabeth David’s Table – Her very best everyday recipes
Author: Elizabeth David
Published by: Michael Joseph - Penguin
Price: £25.00
ISBN 978-0-718-15475-2

food and travel reviews Elizabeth David

English Bread and Yeast Cookery – Elizabeth David

Perhaps bread has always been a comfort food. We welcome the day with a slice of hot toast dripping with butter, if we are lucky. Lunch of a bowl of hot soup with a slice of crusty rustic loaf. Afternoon tea with some crumpets (yes, they too are technically breads) and a romantic evening meal with a basket of French baguette. We consider bread as such an iconic food that estate agents are suggesting that the aroma of home-baking bread could secure a house sale.

cookbook review Not only are these baked goods iconic but the author has a similar status. Elizabeth David is the cook’s cook, the chef’s companion and the cookbook collector’s perennial target. She has remained the doyen of all things culinary for two generations. She was penning prose about olive oil when the nearest most of us came to such an ingredient was Boots the Chemist. Elizabeth David has provided inspiration as well as practical advice, and this volume (first published in 1977) presents both those qualities.

It’s probably true that her books on Mediterranean cuisine have been the most celebrated, but the author has stayed close to home for this project, with perhaps some short trips across the Channel. English Bread and Yeast Cookery is a cookbook but it’s also a bread-maker’s almanac, a baker’s digest and a loaf lover’s manual. It’s a comprehensive guide to all the accoutrements of bread, from milling, yeast production, varieties of flour, to myth and lore.

The experienced cook will doubtless leaf through these first chapters and revel in the usual charm and wit that made this lady so popular. Her words set the scene for the extraordinary alchemy that is baking in general and bread-baking in particular. One is using a live ingredient which is influenced even by changes in the weather. One’s sense of touch is key to success, making the process perhaps the most intimate and rewarding of culinary pastimes.

English Bread and Yeast Cookery will be equally welcomed by less experienced bakers who will want to turn to the recipes right away and start cooking. Their raw enthusiasm will be nurtured into confident skill with simple straightforward recipes. There can be few greater triumphs than presenting a well-textured loaf from one’s own oven. Don’t even consider leaving your first such master-work to cool. That honestly would be an unachievable challenge.

I mentioned that Ms. David gave a nod to the celebrated breads of France but she also voyaged south to Italy. Her recipe for Pizza might well be a starting point for those who want to learn more about yeast cookery. This is forgiving dough which will always result in a presentable meal. There are none of the worries of potential slump that one might have with the first attempt at a lofty cottage loaf. Pizza will also tempt younger members of the family into the kitchen. Cooking should be fun but bread baking can be magical.

This is a classic and a one-stop bread book. There are all the traditional favourites like Bloomer, Granary Loaf, and Baps but there is also a section on yeast cakes as well as those yeast-batter treats like crumpets and yeast pancakes, sweet savarin and savoury quiches. English Bread and Yeast Cookery is a book for those who know nothing of yeast baking and equally for those who love it but want to know more. Outstanding value for money and a must for any cookbook collection.

Cookbook review: English Bread and Yeast Cookery
Author: Elizabeth David
Published by: Grub Street
Price: £14.99
ISBN 978-1-906502-87-4

food and travel reviews Elizabeth David

Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen

Elizabeth David is for many the Grande Dame of British cooking, although she is more famed for her writings on the cuisine of the Mediterranean at a time when the prospect of many Brits travelling to those sun-drenched climes was slim. Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen takes us a little further afield to explore the flavours of the East.

cookbook review This volume (the latest in a series of Elizabeth David classics from the well-respected publisher, Grub Street) is strewn with references to cinnamon, cumin, coriander, nutmeg, pepper, mace and our own English mustard. She quashes the widely-held misconception that food in England has always been bland. OK, so perhaps that concept is less believed these days, but it endures with Americans in particular.

But even before the advent of Chicken Tikka Masala, we had an appreciation of warming spices from the Orient. It’s been a love affair that started in antiquity and has endured down the centuries. Think of cinnamon in cakes and Victorian punches; remember nutmeg on rice pudding (a personal nutmeg grater was often found amongst the upper-class accoutrements). Something as common as a grind of pepper has enhanced our food for centuries. Wars have been fought and lands seized for the very want of these spices.

In her wonderful book Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen, first published in 1970, Elizabeth David reminds us of the importance of spice in English cookery. There have been references to various spices since the very first English cookbooks. The recipes might have been sketchy and designed very much with the cook of a grand house in mind but those spices were there in luxurious abundance. Curry took hold here in the days of the Raj – not perhaps the most authentic of examples but popular nevertheless. The move to spice up Britain started before we even knew what to do with a Vindaloo.

Although first published 40 years ago, this book is still a worthy read. The author remarks more than once that this book is just a taster and not a comprehensive guide, but she has contrived to fill the pages with recipes and histories of spices and seasonings for sauces, salads, fish, meat, rice and vegetables, poultry, desserts, chutneys, pickles, condiments and drinks. Her dishes use a raft of spices, but are mostly straightforward. Perhaps I would counsel that the boar’s head be left to the more experienced cook. (It takes 10lb of stuffing and a pound of truffles. Poach in 6 gallons of water and invite the in-laws round, and there should still be leftovers for sandwiches.) This is just a recipe to illustrate the charm of cooking in the 1840’s. The majority of other dishes are easy to prepare: for example, the recipes for potted cheese are simple and these tangy, spreadable delights are great additions to any cheeseboard.

In her personal life she might have had feet of clay but Elizabeth David remains firmly affixed atop her culinary pedestal. She has offered wisdom to a couple of generations of domestic cooks. Her writing is personal and anecdotal. She points out possible pitfalls and freely admits that she herself has stumbled into many. She gives confidence without being patronising. She once said “Writing doesn't come easily to me. It gets more and more difficult.” Her books are a testament to her perseverance. They are as unique as she was.

Cookbook review: Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen
Author: Elizabeth David
Published by: Grub Street
Price: £12.99
ISBN 978-1-90204-66-3

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