Well, it’s all over now – not even any crumbs left. It’s taken me a while to digest the events of our foray into the world of the Great Bath Feast and what a great event Cooking the Books was.
Dr Annie Grey is a delight and a breath of fresh air. She involves the audience, makes them think about how they cook or use their recipe books, and what legacy they might be leaving for the cooks coming after them. I have to admit to being a cook that keeps or borrows cookery books for a specific recipe or style of recipe. I never write in my own books (and never in the Library’s either), but I now realise that this embargo, placed on so many of us when children by our parents and teachers, may be missing a trick. The idea of noting how good a recipe was, whether the guests enjoyed it, whether you enjoyed it, or how you later altered the recipe by reducing or altering ingredients, misses the idea that when you revisit the book you don’t have to remember what you did last time – it’s right there. Even tearing out recipe pages of newspapers or magazines and adding them into a notebook or cookbook has merit – where else would you keep them anyway?
I love looking at our books that have marginalia – comments from the author or the owner of a book. They may be to point out an error, or they may be to add information to the printed text, but they have value in their own right. Assuming you can actually read the handwriting of course. With cookbooks you have the added dimension of unintended ingredients creating a ready-made bookmark on the page. One of my childhood cookbooks opens at two pages: Chocolate Mousse and Peppermint Creams. Both pages slightly discoloured and with faint smells of chocolate or peppermint and icing sugar.
We had no such problems at the event. Annie’s sometime hilarious look at history’s attitude to recipe books (not just food cooking, but also medicinal recipes as the cook was often also the apothecary for the family), gave us new insight to our own practices as well as historical food cookery and presentation – when is a hedgehog not quite what you were expecting?
We had tasters of some of the food – prepared by Dale Ingram of Sally Lunns to original recipes. Sarah Siddons’ mutton curry wasn’t quite what one might expect today – mutton is no longer a common ingredient and it wasn’t hot, although the herbs and spices still had the flavouring of curry without the heat. A lovely background of lemon pickle ran through it as well that lifted it out of being just another mutton stew.
I have to admit I couldn’t eat the orange custard pies (I’m lactose intolerant unfortunately) – but they disappeared at a rate of knots, so it was apparently very tasty. The wiggs came as a surprise to most, including me. A fairly ordinary bread – light and tasty – with a background of caraway seed. I’d love to have tasted one warm, straight from the oven with a little bit of butter perhaps. I have to admit to sneaking a few extra portions. I’d even be tempted to make my first foray into bread baking to see if I could recreate the taste .
I have the impression most of the audience left amused, replete and happy. I was glad to hear of a few people tempted in to the Library for the very first time because of the event – we’d love to see them come back again. One lady even commented that she’d never seen the Library so full of people – she should try it during exam revision time. We still have some of the original manuscripts on display in the Library – along with some other food-related ephemera from the collection.
Now our only problem is to follow up on the success of this event …