Penguin Books For Cooks Four

The Plain Kitchen Justine wall

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.”

Hector and Haddock Print Kitchenalia

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.

Linocut hector and Haddock

Linoprint Hector and Haddock

Swiss Cooking, Anne Mason, 1964, illustrated by Shirley Lawn (Andre Deutsch Ltd, Carlton Books)

The Plain Kitchen Justine wall
 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?

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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.

Penguin Books for Cooks Three

Penguin Books for cooks The plain kItchen

I know, I know- a little late, but here it is. I spent the most wonderful two days catching up with friends at Maison et Objet in Paris, and returned home with a full heart and a brain completely inspired from all I had seen. My weekend’s sojourn means that my Penguin Books For Cooks will be in your inboxes on Wednesday morning: apologies, and I do hope you enjoy the two little numbers.

As you may now know, each week will see me looking at two cookbooks, inspired by my wonderful Box Set: 100 Cookbook covers in one box: Cookery Postcards from Penguin. Lots of people have enquired about the box set- and you can purchase them easily: I have provided a link here to Waterstones, as they have them in stock, and the box set is often stocked in independent shops and galleries. It is quite the most worthwhile purchase- you won’t regret it!

I suppose it seems appropriate post my Parisian weekend that I should examine a little Penguin devoted to a classic French dish, and pair it with another interesting title which caused me rather a lot of delight, and frustration when researching it: so here they are: Narcissa Chamberlain’s The Omelette Book, and The Savannah Cook Book, by Harriet Ross Colquit.

The Omelette Book, Narcissa Chamberlain, illustrated by Hilary Knight

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I have a copy of this: and, with its rather niche title, it is not as slim as one would imagine. I have always loved the idea of an omelette; I do however choose to cook the rather more robust frittata on frequent occasions, and in my kitchen a tortilla may be favoured over the traditional French classic. It is perhaps to do with my not-so-gentle touch in the kitchen: I am a little slap dash, and I can be clumsy. Of course, I also have a Stanley cooker and temperature can sometimes not be as exacting as an omelette often requires. I do, however, love this little book for its wonderful verse, and its sublime ideas. Narcissa Chamberlain was born in New York, and then lived in France with her husband Samuel Chamberlain, a writer on gastronomy, and an etcher and photographer. She considered herself a “home-made” cook, with later studies at the Ecole du Cordon Bleu furthering her knowledge. Chamberlain researched many culinary histories, using Samuel’s extremely large library of gastronomy titles. She discovered that the omelette appeared in so many guises, across a huge range of cultures and countries, and what fascinated her were the roots of the omelette deep in antiquity- she poured this research and fascination into this definitive collection of 300 omelette recipes. It is an absolute delight to read, and will urge you to rediscover this simple little dish.

the plain kitchen food blog justine wall

In the opening “The Chronicle of The Omelette”, Chamberlain’s voice is wonderfully present, and it is one which I instantly warmed to. She warns against the actions of the unskilled in the kitchen: when describing the last crucial stages of the omelette, she advises, “The fact is, take care, the coagulation is abrupt, the exact degree easily overstepped, and you mightily risk turning out a pretty piece of cardboard in guise of an omelette. In this case, it is no longer an omelette, it is a little projectile good for breaking window panes.” Again, in extolling the wonders of the dish as an everyday supper, she writes, “Dishwashers and automatic blenders replace many pairs of hands, but no mechanical voice answers the eternal question, “What shall we have for dinner?”. I do rather love a woman with a practical and humorous heart.

the plain kitchen the omelette book

I have taken a recipe directly from this little book for you today: it is a sweet one, and employs the souffle method: but it sounds just wonderful. I also have to admit to something: as I have been writing this post, I had to stop and go downstairs to the kitchen. I opened the fridge and foraged a few ingredients and, in 10 minutes, had made myself the most perfect little 2 egg omelette for Elevenses.

I will transcribe the recipe exactly as it appears in the book.

Coffee and Almond Souffle Omelette

(Coffee, almonds)

Beat the yolks of 4 eggs with 6 tablespoons of sugar long and thoroughly until thick and pale. Add 3 tablespoons of extremely strong coffee. Fold in 6 whites beaten stiff and ½ cup grilled chopped almonds (unsalted). Drop the mixture into a buttered oval baking dish, smooth the surface with a spatula, leaving it in the center.

Place in a hot oven and when the omelette begins to rise (which should be in about 5 minutes), make a long slit in the surface, and continue to cook about 10 minutes more.

the plain kitchen food blog

The Omelette Book was illustrated by Hilary Knight. I have included a few of these delightful pen and ink drawings in the post, and I find both the book cover and the illustrations incredibly contemporary: these could appear in a 21st century cookbook and not look out of place. Of course, as a self-confessed paper lover and corkboard enthusiast, I love Knight’s use of the pin motif throughout his illustrations: reminiscent of the kitchen and a pinboard, the cook’s notes to herself, the proper pinning of paper before the adhesive likes of post-it notes and the virtual pinboards we adore today, these little illustrations remind me of simple kitchens, and corkboards filled with reminders and good ideas for mid-week meals. Hilary Knight is a prolific illustrator: 90 years old, he has two new book projects coming out this year, and you may well know him better as the creator of the Eloise drawings (the series by Kay Thompson). He also illustrated the wonderful I Hate To Cook by Peg Bracken, among many other titles. I adored looking through his work and reading all about him: his blog is here, and of course you can also follow his Twitter account.
Justine Wall The plain kitchen

Ribbons and roosters, ducks and hare-lidded tureens, pepper mills and frying pans- Knight’s little illustrations are quite perfect: I would have loved to have seen more than just the chapter plates, however!


The Savannah Cook Book, Harriet Ross Colquit, illustrated by Florence Olmstead

This is one that I don’t have in my collection: published in 1933, it is a collection of “the receipts that made the Savannah hospitality famous”. The cookbook focusses on the historic and often colonial recipes passed down through generations of families and cooks, from Savannah, Georgia . It’s difficult to find much out about the book, the writer and the illustrator. The cookbook includes an introduction by Ogden Nash, extolling the virtues of Georgia’s cookery and hospitality. Recipes such as Chicken Gumbo, Veal in Curry Sauce, Possum and ‘Taters, and Chatham Artillery Punch (a rather splendid sounding infusion, it must be said) are included. Preceding the Possum recipe, readers are instructed in a few methods on the best way of hunting and catching the little animal, and then, while cooking, to “place four slices of breakfast bacon reverently across his breast”- a phrase which of course took my fancy. As I say, my research here has been purely internet based, as I don’t have the edition, so information is a bit thin on the ground. Receipts were collected from a variety of sources: word-of-mouth, family albums and old letters. Receipts is a Southern word, and I love this description from Charleston Wine and Food, explaining the difference between receipt and recipe: “Recipes are instructions; receipts are biographies, shared at the table”. You can find out a little more on, which is a most interesting site. Another website which threw up an amazing series of books on Southern Cooking was I now follow them on Instagram too, and will be lovingly looking at their collections for years to come I think!

If anyone can provide any information on Florence Olmstead, I would be most grateful: and as I don’t have a copy of the book, I can’t even post any pictures for you!

Until next week’s instalment- goodbye, and have a wonderful week.