Readers Digest never put a foot wrong. They might, however, not be the first books you reach for when browsing the cookery section of your local and no doubt well-stocked bookshop. Cookery Year is a fine example of a book that could so easily be overlooked. It hasn’t got an associated TV series. The author has not got a reputation for bad language. The ingredients are not exotic (for the most part), and you don’t need to have attended a cooking school in Paris, although don’t pass up on the chance.
This book was first published in the 1970s. That might seem a lifetime ago to my dear reader and it could indeed be a lifetime ago for many. For others it seems just like yesterday (or at least the day before). I purchased my very first cookbook in 1974 and it was a general recipe book almost devoid of colour photographs, unlike this one. But it’s still the book I turn to so very often for good solid recipes that really do work. Cookery Year has that same reliable quality.
Cookery Year is described as a month-by-month collection of delicious seasonal recipes. It is also sub-titled Culinary Classics. No need to be scared by that phrase: the classics in question are not of the labour intensive sort favoured by many restaurants. These represent familiar standards that we have all enjoyed and some that you might not have seen in cookbooks for a while. They have become “classics” because they are practical recipes using ingredients that you honestly will find in your high-street supermarket.
This would be an appealing book for a novice cook, with hundreds of photographs of finished dishes to give a bit of confidence. It starts with chapters introducing one to all the basic main ingredients. Varieties of fish, meat, poultry, vegetables and fruit are all described in detail and are illustrated with the most marvellous of watercolours. This medium seems to work well, giving a far clearer impression of the anatomical characteristics of the subject than can even the best photograph.
The recipe section has, unsurprisingly, January as the opening chapter and continues through the year offering a raft of dishes for every course and occasion. This book may well have its origins in the 70s but there is nothing bland or boring here. It will be a revelation to many to realise that even way back then there were recipes that had vibrant flavours and which hailed from off our shores. Yes, some well-loved British fare but also dishes that are more traditional in France and Italy, and even Roghan Josh is featured, and that comes from a long way away!
There are many noteworthy retro dishes here. Chicken Kiev (marvellous when done well, but cheap frozen versions have given this a bad press), Veal and Ham Pie, Salmon en Croute (a long-lost dinner party favourite). You might not have had Black Forest Gateau for a while, and the Victorian Queen of Puddings was a staple dessert for so many decades for no other reason than that it was a delight to eat.
I could list hundreds of recipes from Cookery Year that I have enjoyed making and indeed eating in the past. I look forward to being reacquainted with them in the future. I am pleased to see such a quality collection of dishes that are too often disregarded by sophisticated foodies as being old-fashioned or too British. But why should we eat foods just because they are in vogue. We should enjoy dishes that are seasonal and delicious. This book is filled with tempting recipes that have stood the test of time.
Cookery Year is, as I said, a great first cookbook for the beginner but also for any serious cook who wants a broad spectrum of well-crafted recipes. An amazing volume, outstanding value for money. It’s a book to use and there can be no finer accolade.
Published by: Readers Digest
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018