When it comes to cookery books, most people can’t wait to get hold of Jamie Oliver’s or Nigella’s latest offering – and I’m no different. But there are no words to describe just how thrilled I was to have recently got my hands on a copy of The Cookery Year by Reader’s Digest. I’ve been hunting around for this iconic cook book for a long time, hoping to add it to my overwhelming collection of cookery books. For me, this little gem is the king of cook books – and an integral part of my childhood.
From the moment Reader’s Digest published The Cookery Year in the early seventies, it became the cook book no kitchen was complete without. It contained a month by month guide to seasonal produce plus recipes. My mother was the proud owner of a copy from the seventies, and being the strange child that I was, I used to spend hours poring over the pages. I must have been the only five year old who knew what a blini was! It was this book which got me interested in food and cooking at a young age all those years ago, and it introduced me to the delicious summer pudding; the delightful ouefs a la neige, and the flaming brilliant Crepes Suzettes!
But what I liked most about The Cookery Year were the beautifully illustrated opening pages listing information about different types of fruit, vegetables, cuts of meat, fish and cheese, complete with instructions for preparation and cooking. I enjoyed looking the pictures and once I’d learnt to read, I was also able to find out when certain produce was available and preferable cooking methods though why a primary school-aged child needed to know such information, I’ll never know! Who’d have thought that The Cookery Year could be so educational? Furthermore whenever I played the Name Game, with friends, I was very rarely stuck when it came to the fruit and vegetable category – and I have The Cookery Year to thank for that!
Now my mother’s cook book – the same one I used to look through when I was a child – certainly looks as though it’s been through the wars. Battered and worn, with the cover and many of its pages missing, this book has been well and truly used! I remember Mum used to follow the recipes for some of the cakes that featured in this book and I did make something from The Cookery Year when I was about twelve – orange foam sauce which we served with spotted dick as we’d run out of the milk we needed to make the custard so this recipe saved the day!
Being reunited with this book is like being reunited with a missing piece of my childhood. I thoroughly enjoyed getting reacquainted with this cook book; flicking through the pages; feeling amazed at how much I’d remembered… I came across recipes and photos I instantly recognised. Grapefruit in brandy… scallops served in the shell… turbot with sweetcorn… salad elona… it was as though I was being transported back in time. I also came across dishes I hadn’t heard of in a long time which were extremely popular when I was growing up such as cock-a-leekie soup, melon and prawn basket, Steak Diane and peach melba. And oh my goodness, kidneys! A lot of kidneys were consumed in the seventies and eighties if these recipes are anything to go by. Maybe there are some changes in twenty-first century cooking for which we can be thankful!
The edition of The Cookery Year which I have found is from 2009 rather than from the 1970s and even though it’s done it’s best to adhere to the original format, there are differences. The hardback cover of the 1970s edition featured a variety of fruits, vegetables, and spices, artistically arranged and photographed, while the 2009 edition has charming illustrations of fruit vegetables and fish emblazoned across its paperback cover. Some of the photographs inside the book are different to what I remember and some have been omitted altogether. Furthermore some recipes have also been removed such as the delightful ‘bunnies on the lawn’ that I always hoped my mum would make for my next birthday party.
Just as clothes go out of fashion, so does food and there are some dishes here which probably haven’t stood the test of time. I can’t see anyone serving up tomato ice as a starter or the delightfully named kidney scramble when they fancy a light snack. But there are still a huge number of classics such as chicken pie, tarte tatin, boef bourguignonne, and Lancashire hot pot as well as the famous summer pudding which outnumber the dishes which now seems outdated, so The Cookery Year is still a worthwhile buy. And in any case, any recipes that seem a bit dated can be adapted to modern tastes and to what is now available, or simply stick a ‘retro’ label on it and it will immediately be en vogue again!
It’s also amazing to see just how far we’ve come from the seventies in terms of food. Offal seems to be off the menu in a lot of households and restaurants, thank goodness. Chilli chocolate, salted caramel, pulled pork and many of today’s current food trends didn’t appear to exist then. In the seventies edition of The Cookery Year, peppers, avocados and courgettes were considered ‘less common vegetables’. Fast forward forty years and everyone’s fridge is full of them! And despite there surprisingly being lots of foreign influences, it’s missing a lot of the Thai, Japanese and South American flavours which are so popular today.
I really do think that every household could benefit from owning a copy of The Cookery Year. It really is a must-have book. Those who already have this cook book have said that they’ve never really needed another cookery book as this one has everything they need to develop their culinary skills. It’s perfect for beginners to cooking enthusiasts alike; serious homemakers to those setting up home for the first time; parents and children – I even saw a comment from a lady who said that her three year old daughter sits on the work top looking through the book while her mother cooks. Sounds very familiar! Another mother has said that she uses the opening chapters as a teaching aid about food for her children. There are also menu suggestions for special occasions like weddings, Christmas and dinner parties. To say this book is extremely useful is an understatement – it’s the cook’s bible!
I’m so glad that The Cookery Year is part of my life again. I honestly don’t know how I lived without it for so long. I love the format, the month by month guide, the menus, the advice, the recipes, the illustrations, the photographs – in short, EVERYTHING! However, I’m still going to keep my eye out for an original edition like my mum had. What can I say – I’m so old school!
So I’m going to leave you with the recipe from The Cookery Year for the orange foam sauce I made many years ago with great success. It really is a delicious, versatile and – if a twelve year old can do it – easy to make sauce. It goes well with most pies, tarts, hot pudding and cakes and even Christmas pudding!
ORANGE FOAM SAUCE
1 oz unsalted butter
1 orange (grated rind and juice of)
1 all-purpose flour
2 oz superfine sugar
- Cream the butter and grated orange rind and gradually beat in the flour mixed with sugar.
- Separate the egg and beat the yolk into the butter & flour mixture.
- Add the orange juice (made up to 5floz with water)
- Don’t worry if the mixture curdles at this stage, it will become smooth again as it cooks.
- Cook the sauce in a small heavy based saucepan over a low heat, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens and the flour is cooked through.
- Add a little extra water if necessary to keep the sauce to a pouring consistency.
- Remove the pan from the heat and cover with a lid to keep warm.
- Just before serving, beat the egg white until stiff and then fold it into the sauce and sharpen the sauce slightly with a little lemon juice.