Grub Street has carved out a great reputation as a cookbook publisher. There are a few of them out there but I am always excited when a Grub Street book arrives – it’s gonna be a classic. People term anything that they like “a classic” but Grub Street publish “the” classics and The Constance Spry Cookery Book is right up there with the best.
What makes a classic cookbook? Well, it must surely be longevity. This book has been around since the 1950s. OK, so there were not so many cookbooks on the shelves in those days but there have been thousands since and most of them sink without a trace after a year or two. That companion book to the celebrity chef TV series will be collecting dust as it dawns upon you that the programme was a delightful travelogue but the recipes are a poor bunch and might not even have been penned by the celeb (shock, horror!).
Yes, there is plenty of competition out there so a book that has endured for half a century must surely have a lot to recommend it. The Constance Spry Cookery Book certainly does. It’s a weighty tome written by, unsurprisingly, Constance Spry but also Rosemary Hume who was her partner in a cookery school. They filled their masterwork with well-written recipes reflecting the food of the era, but good food never goes out of fashion. Food should not be a trend, a passing fad. If it was good then, it will be good now.
This is a page-turner for any lover of British food. There are recipes here for delicious traditional fare that, thank goodness, contemporary chefs are now acknowledging. OK, there are French recipes (any self-respecting middle-class housewife of the mid-20th century would want a battery of those) but they are the ones that are still prized in the 21st century. However, it’s the old-fashioned English ones that I find so charming: Suet Roly Poly; Beef Wellington; Baked Stuffed Hearts.
It’s not just the recipes that will be absorbing. The prose surrounding the food is almost poetic and more like Elisabeth David than Jamie Oliver. On bread:“I wish I could conjure up the smell that greeted us on baking days as we came in from a frosty walk, or which hung on the summer air round the open kitchen window.” Makes you want to buy a cottage, let alone bake some bread.
It’s no surprise that this book has been at the top of many a wedding list. It’s a culinary instruction manual and a family heirloom in the making. The recipes are mostly short and unfussy and don’t assume you have ever graced the inside of a kitchen. A collector’s cookbook but it’s one to use and cherish.
The Constance Spry Cookery Book
Authors: Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume
Published by: Grub Street
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018