It started as I cleaned the shower this morning. The radio programme I was half listening to featured an interview with Barbara Hosking, a senior civil servant who worked for both Harold Wilson and Ted Heath but who, in this instance had been asked to nominate her favourite cookbook. I didn't quite catch the title of her choice but suffice to say it included a large number of recipes with rabbit. Hmm.
It set me thinking. I'm not sure I have a favourite cook book but I did immediately think of the first one I owned. I'd been awarded a school prize in 1972 and as was the convention, I received a book token to take to the shop in the city centre to choose a title to be shipped to the school in time for presentation on Speech Day. I can't remember the amount, but the dilemma of choosing what to buy was one to savour and I know that I spent a while in the bookshop with my Mum, deciding what to choose with rather more money than I was used to having at my disposal. Ever the practical woman, my Mum advised in favour of a book I'd always find useful; a title I'd refer to and cherish for some time to come. A cook book. The first of many, but most certainly not the more conventional Complete Works of Shakespeare or Oxford English Dictionary which had been expected. Hmm. A cook book? Oh... I remembered the reaction when I handed the slip of paper in at school the next day.
As soon as I came downstairs this morning, then, I looked for that Cooking for Today title on a spine. Whilst I was looking, I thought I might as well scan in all those cookbooks to my library database (yes, 1110 titles and ongoing!) I spent an hour scanning a whole bookcase full of cookery barcodes and, you've guessed, no school prize cookbook.
I did find a small inheritance. No, not of the financial sort, but the Bero book from my Mum's kitchen drawer, beloved of so many generations and requested by someone just last week on the WI Facebook page in a heartfelt plea for a long lost recipe. But still no Cooking for Today.
Eventually I found it. Not with the cook books at all, but on a shelf with the oldest books of my collection. With the Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady and a couple of other books from before we were married. Of course, I opened it and looked for the bookplate inside.
It wasn't there!
Only then did I remember that there had been enough for two books. The price of the cook book left enough on the book token for another, small purchase: the 1972 Pears Cyclopedia, which I referred to frequently when doing a crossword. Guess which title my grammar school chose to put the book plate inside? (Couldn't stretch to two bookplates, I suppose...)
But whilst we are on the subject, which cook book would you take along as "your favourite"? I'm not sure I have one...though the Delia Smith titles might be "the most reliable", the Nigella books "the most interesting", Nigel Slater's "the most homely" and any Good Housekeeping title "the most authorative". I have two books on the shelf - this one and this one - which are each used for a single recipe (chicken biryani and moitie-moitie cheese fondue) though each time I open them I tell myself I should try something else. And of course, there are those which stay on my shelf long past their usefulness, such as Cooking for Today.
That today was quite a while ago though. I think we've moved on from Pineapple Corn Crunch and Tropical Fruit Salad (even if an "unusual mixture of canned fruits go into this salad") But who knows, maybe one day, I will find myself putting together a 1970s "dinner party for slimmers", in which case a recipe for boiled rice and grilled tomatoes to accompany marindaded lamb kebabs might go down a treat!