A relative did a massive cleanse and clearance of years of accumulated … well crap. Much of it was showered on my household and then took a trip to its final resting place.
However, from the cascade of years of detritions, a few things were interesting. Said relative was a huge fan of catalogue and online buying of a wide cross section. This ended in an accumulation of amazing gadgets. The vast majority of gadgets found their way elsewhere. The cook books, landed with me.
The library of cook books I have now is substantial and tell a tale of radical change in the food we cook and eat. Up until the sixties and seventies, the kitchen and what came out of it was fairly stable, we did see the influence of France and Italy on the food we ate. With the advent of Le Cordon Bleu cooking school by Hume and Downes in 1975, with the impact of foodies like Julia Child and Elizabeth David who encouraged us to spread our wings.
And spread we did, vast doors swung open. In 1975, the National Trust ( a group who included many wealthy influential people who had an interest in the finer things of life ) produced and published a work called Cork Fork and Ladle (written in ornate cursive script to indicate its adherence to tradition). The book took me on an immediate journey.
1975 saw me involved in a world of design and food. I was an up and coming Interior Designer, pawing his way up the social ladder since it was the key to success. Jennifer and I attended way more openings, social events and dinners, cooked more Fillets de Boeuf than a decent son of a butcher had a right to. Urged on by Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol 1 and 2, were soon producing Pates as fine as any that ever graced Haute Cuisine (except I never ever pushed the pate through a fine sieve, I thought that was overkill) , delved into the world of Terrines. Drew a line at poncing up vegetables in small round unnatural things, but adored the many things that could be done with chocolate. On one spectacular occasion, was greeted by a hostess who had produced no less than three of the great chocolate dishes, roulade, mouse and chocolate pate. It was a tour de force chocolate feast.
Another of the books, not part of the shower, but bought by me at a junk sale was called ‘Cooking with a French Touch’. Published in London in 1952 by two Swiss/French authors. The introduction itself is a wonder of good advice that today, would be roundly ignored. The 1950’s was a hot bed of cook books, Elizabeth David published her first five books, Julia Childs first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in the USA in 1961. James Beard, famous American cook and writer published his first book in 1940, the influence of which was small and limited to the USA. Margaret Fulton, the undoubted queen of cooking in Australia and major influencer in every Australian kitchen, published her first cook book in 1968, followed by a flood of others.
It seems to me that there is great danger in change, the loss of men and women who can cook, the loss of people who want to cook, the confusion of cooks who find themselves overwhelmed by recipes and choices. The influence of ‘influencers’ whose job is to direct people in the direction of their employer. The influence of media who quickly saw food and cooking as a great money making opportunity and promoted modestly talented chefs to great heights because of their ability as TV stars. Their actual contribution to the cooking of food was questionable. In one case the celebrity Chef, rarely appeared sober and consumed vast quantities of wine as he cooked. Perhaps it can be said that he assisted the wine makers more than the cooks.
Hospital Auxiliaries were guilty of producing an endless flow of cook books, as was the Country Women’s Association of Australia, I was an avid collector of all, they were a window into a world that I much admired, cooks who were the backbone of Australia, who could run up a sponge cake or a batch of scones in a jiffy. Cooks who knew how hot their wood stoves were, who every day produced 3 meals for their families and often for others during intense work times in the country, who could also keep cake tins filled and biscuit boxes topped with sweet and savoury. My absolute all time fave from the CWA and Hospital Auxiliary world was ginger fluff sponge filled with mock cream. That said, I was also exceptionally fond of the banqueting stuff, the times when the towns come together to celebrate. My mother was always in charge of getting the debutantes up to scratch for the local Deb Ball. The supper room was a sight to behold.
I am told I am getting close to my use by… I am channelling my Grandfather, he worked until he was 85+ and when he stopped, moaned about the inactivity of it all.
I have not changed, the bloody world has changed, become way way less careful in its choices, is it organic?? More importantly was it made with care, love, knowledge and understanding. Organic is absolutely no criteria, so slack, so little faith so little regulation, anyone can claim organic. There is no one to stop you. It’s like free range eggs, now if ever there was an area of dishonesty, this takes the cake. Even organic free range poultry is massively suspect. Organic, free range – indeed.
It has taken years and years to gather the experience, knowledge and understanding of what I do, it has taken about five minutes for modern technology to develop, even less time for people to live their lives on social media. And that will all change soon as the next new thing rolls along. As I said to someone today, I liked the times of writing a good letter, if it was urgent, send a Telegram or make a call. I am far from convinced that immediacy has improved our lives. Not at all sure that being able to watch a life being snuffed out by ISIS executioners on my IPhone is ripper. I don’t get it, why do we need to see the war and horror as it happens?
We have lost so much, time mostly, simple elegant time. No one has the ability anymore to do nothing, just be in the moment. Everyone has to be fulfilled, jumping about from place to place, making deals, stitching up this or that, money money. What happened to the striving and obtaining of the 40 hour week? Where’s that gone. Is it really necessary to work 60 + hours a week just to pay a mortgage.
When was the last time you sat with family, enjoyed food, batted the air, laughed and cried. God I miss that, I miss my family rocking up for Sunday nights food, I miss getting to know my grandchildren around a great table, sharing love and laughter.
No one can go back, there are lots of times when I would love to be able to live a more genteel life, kick back. But you can’t. Preserving the whole past doesn’t allow for a future. Keeping the best bits seems the way. The UK has a better handle on this, they all love the past, the rituals, the foods, the country side, more mellow. I’m dead sure that London beats with a vibrant thrum, social media ruling. Yet in amongst all this there remains a great love of bespoke things. Food, clothing, lifestyle items, all made with great care and love and a tender vibrant acknowledgement of the past, the routes.
True to, that this way of living is not something that everyone can afford. But I don’t make product for the masses, I like to tip my hat to them and deeply acknowledge their right to a place in the now, they don’t understand me! Never have. I remain as enigmatic to them as they to me with their love of fast foods and beer. I don’t get it. I don’t frankly expect them to get me. We just have to co-exist.
But you know what, I am not going to bend to social media, I will use it any way I can to further the causes I care about. I will post the written word on Instagram, I will get katty and bitchy with politicians and anyone else I perceive to be mucking with a world I have grown to cherish. I will continue to make food and products that are the best, I will occasionally be drawn into new worlds as portrayed by people like Ottolenghi. But I will hold on tightly to the ways and means of people like Julia Child and battalions of foodies who have gone before, leaving legacies of great food, simply cooked and steeped richly in tradition.
A question, is it possible that someone today will create and leave a legacy of food dishes like Beef Burgundy, fabulous Pasta dishes, for that matter a family roast dinner. Or is it all done. Sorry I cannot think of a dish that has been created by todays doyens of food that is passing/has passed into greatness and will be cooked by generations to come. Take a look at what is lost, what has simply vanished, sponge cakes, fruit puddings, suet puddings (most people have no idea what suet is) home baking in a simple, everyday feed the family sort of way. We are losing beef and lamb stews that are the backbone of early country cooking in Australia.
It is important to grow, to explore and enjoy, it is important to know the foods of other countries, knowledge matters. But knowing is not synonymous with throwing out the old, what was wrong and awful with the old is for the bin, but not what was simple and good. Complexity is fine, diversity of food also fine, but we are not all chefs with kitchens equipped with every known device, mostly we need to cook foods that will feed, enjoyably, our families and friends.
We all use the vast array of electronic devices to explore, many think that television cooking shows are sufficient and induce a warm glow of satisfaction. Social media now is useless in trying to impart knowledge, more than three words, a challenging image and all is lost. Devices rule and how a whole generation is heading towards becoming blind because the writing on a mobile phone is about 3 point and in my case, unreadable.
I am reliably informed that ‘Instagram’ is widely loved, widely accepted and the way of now. This has to be garbage, this is simply a device for vicariously looking into a few lives, gathering followers and not having to leave the safety of a secure environment. If living is heading this way, we are in deep doodoos.
It’s imperative that we continuously look at the way we live, how we communicate, how we eat, what we eat, preservation of the planet. It’s not right to look with envy at the life styles of the wealthy, it’s not alright for governments of all persuasions to need more and more money to keep them in ineffective office. I am seriously considering a move to Denmark or Sweden, they seem to have it about right.