I spotted it on my first visit to Charlie Byrne’s bookshop and couldn’t resist going back to buy it on the last day. I am so glad that I did. This copy dates from 1973 but the bulk of the text was written in 1953. Evelyn Waugh, writing in The Sunday Times, named this book as the one which had, in the year 1954, given him the most pleasure.
Elizabeth David spent a year travelling around Italy gathering encyclopedic knowledge and genuine recipes. She then returned to England, where post-war rationing was still in place, and experimented (resorting even to stock cubes and turkey eggs) to translate Italian recipes to an English kitchen. The insight into the food scarcity and poverty in both Britain and Italy at that time was a real eye-opener for me.
Elizabeth David is a true teacher; simultaneously educating and entertaining. Take this line for example;
‘Stewing beef and the ewe mutton which proves such a problem in England, can be improved by a 6-8 hour bath in wine.’
I could say the same for myself.
She brooks no nonsense. When it comes to acerbic remarks, Elizabeth David puts the Dowager Countess of Grantham in the ha’penny place;
‘Except for sauces, one does not often measure oil by tablespoons. One pours it out of the bottle into the pan. One uses one’s eye and one’s loaf.’
‘PESCHE IN VINO BIANCO.
Into your glass of wine after luncheon slice a peeled yellow peach. Leave it a minute or two. Eat the peach and then drink the wine.’
……. The cloth must be changed at frequent intervals, or it will be smelly beyond endurance.’
‘Remove the crusts from thin slices of sandwich bread…Put the slices of mozzarella cheese between the slices of bread. Beat 2 eggs in a large plate, with a little salt. Put the sandwiches to soak in the egg and leave then for about 30 minutes, turning over once, so that both sides are saturated with egg. Press the sides of the sandwiches firmly together so that the cheese is well enclosed. Fry them quickly in hot oil, and drain them on a piece of kitchen paper. Serve at once.’
Soft, salty, stretchy morsels of goodness. Oh, soooo good.
There is a wonderful section at the end of the book where Elizabeth David describes with enthusiasm her many vineyard visits and wine-tastings. She discreetly admits to a degree of over-indulgence;
‘For mornings after I have Italian friends who swear by a grisly mixture of Fernet Branca and Creme de Menthe; the appearance of the drink is that of a stagnant pond, and it’s effect depends upon the individual reaction to shock treatment.’
Useful, honest, funny; cookery books just don’t come any better than this.