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The Cookery Year: A Meal For All Seasons

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

 

Ingredients:

1 oz unsalted butter
1 orange (grated rind and juice of)
1 all-purpose flour
2 oz superfine sugar
1 egg
lemon juice

Method:

  • 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.

 

 

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Comfort Food #9: Summer Pudding

 

It’s summer and the supermarkets are full of seasonal fruit which make an appearance during the brief summer months before they disappear off supermarket shelves. Cherries, raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants… just perfect for a lovely summer pudding.

 

I think I was probably about five when I first came across a photograph of a delicious looking summer pudding in my mum’s The Cookery Year cookbook. At that age I was a very picky eater who wasn’t happy unless I was stuffing my face with an ample supply of chocolate. So how strange that I should be so enthralled by what is essentially a fruit pudding! I think it was the colours that did it. I was fascinated by the shock of magenta and gorgeous berry tones that made this dessert so appealing which contrasted with the crowning glory that was light, fluffy whipped cream.

 

Summer pudding is a popular, traditional British dessert although it’s origins are unclear. The earliest published summer pudding recipe was published in 1902 by S. Beaty-Pownall however this dessert could have existed since the nineteenth century. It is made by lining a deep dish with sliced white bread before being filled with assorted berries. It is then topped off with a final slice of bread, soaked in the juices of the soft fruit and left overnight before being turned out onto a plate.

 

It is unknown exactly who, why, when or where summer pudding was invented. One possibility is that it was a summer substitute for the heavy, stodgy suet puddings that were popular in winter during Victorian England.
It’s also possible that summer pudding could have been served in health farms where people went to be cleansed and aided in weight loss. Then there’s the belief that it was served in hospitals to the old and infirm as it was easy to digest. It’s beginnings may be shrouded in mystery but summer pudding is more than just an invalid’s dessert!

 

It is better to make this dessert with bread that is slightly stale as this helps the bread to retain a good non-mushy texture once the juice has soaked through. It is traditionally made using raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants though sometimes cherries, blueberries and any other soft fruit that is available can also be used so it’s a great way to take advantage of the fabulous fruit that’s in season – especially as it’s available for such a short time. It is then served with lashings of cream.

 

As with most well known dishes, different variations of this pudding exist. Any variety of soft fruit can be used. Some recipes call for brioche or pannetone to be used instead of white bread. There are recipes which ask for the berries to be stewed while others use raw fruit. There is also an autumnal version of this summer classic which includes pears and plums as well as berries.

 

A summer pudding definitely takes me back to my childhood when I was a kid poring over mum’s cook books – at a time when I could barely read! Unfortunately it wasn’t a dessert Mum ever made for us but we did eat quite a few shop bought ones. Believe me – they’re not as great a good old fashioned homemade pudding whipped up from scratch. And the great thing about a summer pudding is that as impressive looking (and tasting!) as it is, it’s so simple to make. And because it’s packed full of fruit, I don’t even think of it as a pudding but one portion of my five a day!

 

If you fancy whipping up a summer pudding for a new generation to try and making full use of our summer fruits – while we still have them – give this recipe by Gordon Ramsay a go. It tastes amazing!

INDIVIDUAL SUMMER PUDDINGS

 

Makes 8

INGREDIENTS:

1kg mixed berries (raspberries, blueberries, redcurrants, blackberries and strawberries)
50g caster sugar
4 tbsp. Crème de Cassis (or water)
800g(approx.) loaf white bread, sliced
Extra berries to serve

METHOD:

  • Strip berries from their stalks and hull strawberries.
  • Toss berries  in a non-stick saucepan with sugar and Cassis or water.
  • Heat the pan until it starts to sizzle. Cook over a medium heat until the fruits start to bleed and soften.
  • Stir gently, then cool to room temperature.
  • Strain fruit through a plastic sieve into a non-metallic bowl until the juices stop dripping.
  • Have 8 cappuccino or tea cups (about 200ml) ready.
  • Using 2 cutters (approx. 10cm and 6cm, but check against the tops and bottoms of your cups), cut out 8 bread rounds of each size.
  • Cut the crusts off 8 more slices and slice in half. These strips should be approximately the same depth as the cups.
  • Dip the small rounds of bread into the reserved juices and press into the cups.
  • Dip the straight slices in the juice and press around the sides.
  • Spoon in the fruits, pressing down with the back of a spoon to firm.
  • Dip the last of the bread rounds into the juice; press down on top. Chill overnight.
  • When ready to serve, loosen bread tops with the tip of a table knife.
  • Hold a dessert plate over the pudding, then turn upside down, shaking well.
  • The puddings should slip out easily; if not, loosen the sides gently with the knife.
  • Pour any remaining juice over the tops of puddings.
  • Decorate with the remaining fruit; serve with pouring cream, clotted cream or mascarpone.

 

 

 
 

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