I am slipping up. When it came to posting a recipe a day for a year, it seems that the ridiculous pressure spurred me on and I posted daily, without fail. Each day a Plain Kitchen recipe popped (slightly annoyingly, it must be said) into your inboxes at 10 am sharp. My promise to you this year was to provide you with a post every Monday, reviewing lovely old cookbooks, inspired by my Penguin Box Set of Cookbook Covers. It’s Tuesday, and I’m only posting this now- and, shock horror, it will in fact only appear in inboxes on Wednesday. It seems that I have become a little more relaxed with this new idea of mine. Never mind, at least it’s here, and at least I am still managing to adhere to the weekly part of the promise. I so enjoy the research that it feels like a bit of a luxury to read up and write about the books- I suppose that’s why I feel a little indulgent with this year’s task; I simply enjoy it far too much.
Today’s books have two beautifully illustrated covers: Harriet Hands’ More Taste Than Money: Fine Foods for Lean Budgets, published in 1975, is, for someone inspired by kitchenalia, a total dream. Anne Mason’s Swiss Cooking, published in 1964 is a pretty little thing: all pinks and powder blue pastels, pen and ink lines and curlicued typography- I just adore it.
I hope you enjoy today’s musings.
More Taste Than Money: Fine Food for Lean Budgets, Harriet Hands, Published 1975. Designer: Marty Lehtola/Designworks (Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book group, Inc.)
Harriet Hands was born in 1914 and died in 2005. A lover of fine food, Harriet was food editor of The Patent Trader newspaper of Mount Kisco, NY, and wrote a popular weekly food column for over 17 years. In 1975, due to the ripples inflation was causing on household budgets, the Little Brown Publishing Company began searching for a cookbook that would offer excellent recipes while helping households with, as Kirkus Reviews put it, “a thin purse”. This led to the publishing of Hands’ 328 page book, which includes many family favourites along with humorous anecdotes with each recipe. The magic ingredients in Harriet’s recipes are time and effort, not money. The little entry on the book from the Kirkus website explains a little further:
“The dishes in here are mainly classics or standbys depending on how you think of them-pot roast, brisket, chicken fricassee, stuffed eggplant. The preparation is not exotic or international or even particularly adventurous. She uses a limited number of spices, and these sparingly, but always there is fresh ground pepper, real lemon juice, a little wine, a little cream. One warning: she tends to forego shortcuts and the recipes, some of them, will take two, three, four hours. The book includes all the good homemade extras like jams, pickles, relishes and a lavish assortment of pies, and it’s definitely aimed at the full-time homemaker, not the working girl.”
What fascinates me most about this title, is, of course, the cover: although designed in 1975, it has a contemporary aesthetic which would not look out of place on a 2017 title: the silhouettes of our trusted utensils need no other detail: their outlines and curves are enough for us to know their invaluable uses and importance in the kitchen. Some of you may be aware that I designed a range of little kitchenalia linocuts years ago- the individual ones are available on Hector and Haddock, and then I decided to pop my 8 favourites onto a teatowel and screenprint. My linocut outlines are reminiscent of the ones of Harriet’s book but I have to admit to preferring Marty Lehtola’s.
Swiss Cooking, Anne Mason, 1964, illustrated by Shirley Lawn (Andre Deutsch Ltd, Carlton Books)
I have this first edition in my collection. It seemed an appropriate purchase for me, as my very good friend Ali lives in Switzerland and, over the last 17 years that she has been living there (we went to school together in South Africa), I have visited her on numerous occasions. Ali and her family have treated me to the most wonderful Swiss food: from traditional dishes at home, to fine dining in beautiful restaurants overlooking Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), I have been lucky enough to sample a great deal of delicious Swiss cuisine. Ali is Swiss-French, and lives in a little village near Lausanne. Of course, there are three main cuisines which dominate Swiss cooking, namely German, French and Italian, depending on what part of Switzerland one finds oneself in, so the dishes I am most used to are the Swiss-French ones.
I love grocery shopping in Switzerland. From visiting the exquisite and plentiful Globus food emporiums, to shopping at the larger more mainstream supermarkets and the little village stores, there is one common and welcome theme among all outlets: the distinct lack of processed food, ready-meals and often obscene excess that can dominate our British supermarket shelves. Shopping is, as a result of this dearth, a far easier and more pleasurable experience. What food shopping in Switzerland isn’t, however, is cheap. Groceries, as with most purchases in Switzerland are very expensive if one is purchasing them on the British pound. Farmers are valued more than they are here, and all jobs, generally, are well paid: a system that works and one that we would do well to learn from.
Back to the book in hand. Thankfully, Anne Mason has written not only of Raclette and Fondue, but of hundreds of other Swiss dishes, from Schwyz Cheese Pie (a dish of utter wonder and indulgence, dominated by cheese, cream, butter, eggs and potatoes) to lighter dishes such as Swiss Crest Salad (a popular dish from the Valais region) and one of my favourites to eat when I am visiting, Perch á la Ouchy; perch being fish caught from Lac Léman. Sweeter dishes include, of course, many Kirsch infused creations, along with a predictable dominance of chestnuts, apples, almonds and buttery pastry. Interestingly, there seems to be a lack of chocolate recipes, however I think I know the reason for this. Swiss homecooks think nothing of buying their bread and patisserie from their local village stores; and for good reason. There is not much use in making your own bread, or in fact cakes, when fresh and exquisitely made versions are literally on your doorstep. And of course, the Swiss support independent businesses: they feel it is their duty to buy from the local Boulangerie or Patisserie. Perhaps the same goes for chocolate: not only can you buy prettily boxed confections from your local Patisserie, but there is an abundance of Chocolatiers on most high streets. I am all for making things at home, as you all know, but really, when you can buy such creations in every village or town, why would one bother?
Anne Mason was born in Australia, and she and her husband John emigrated to England in 1963. They settled in Maidstone, Kent, and she became an editor at the Kent Messenger, writing columns well into her 70s. She and John established themselves as a husband and wife traveling duo, publishing books and articles on almost all of Europe, and many other places too. Sadly, for me at least, these books are purely travel based- if only Anne had written individual Cook Books for each country visited, along the lines of Swiss Cooking: can you image how wonderful that would have been?
The cover is a delight. Illustrated by Shirley Lawn, it is a triumph of pastels and pen and ink: A Swiss Window and its shutters open onto the Alps and a traditional chalet, while in the foreground we see the traditions of a Swiss table set out before us: a Fondue set, a bottle of Kirsch, apples, Swiss wine and of course a round of Emmental. I love it for its simple naïveté and flat design, and of course for the liberal use of the heart shape- a most pleasing little form.
Have a wonderful week, everyone.