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Showing posts from May 31, 2020

Cookbooks 10: F.T. Cheng, or Cheng Tien-hsi, or Zheng Tianxi.

10. Dr. Cheng (1884-1970) was a lawyer, a judge on the International Court of Justice in the Hague and the last ambassador of the Republic of China (i.e. Taiwan) to the United Kingdom. It seems he wrote this book, first published in 1954, to pass the time when he was nearing 70. My copy is dotted with Athenaeum date due stamps up to December 1983, before being given to me as gift in 1985 by Elizabeth Wade, who writes in a covering note that she found it in a library sale. Although Dr. Cheng’s book contains recipes, its intention is to explain Chinese attitudes to food, often pointedly to Westerners uninformed about regional variations and traditional manners. In fact, the large Chinese characters on the title page and jacket mean ‘A Thesis on Living’. Sub-headings in the chapter ‘Hints on Cooking’ hint also at the Chinese approach to the kitchen: ‘Rule of Symmetry’, ‘Secrets in Steaming’, ‘The Three Stages’, ‘The Two Ways’. It could be an introduction to Confucian Philosophy. Ev

Cookbooks 9: Valentina Harris

9. Valentina Harris. Every Italian cookbook worth its salt contains risotto recipes, each adding clues to the perfection of the dish, but this is my favourite comprehensive collection. Valentina is one of the Sforzas. She went to live in London to write cookbooks. Anyway, she has brought Milan to the page. Carol gave me this book twenty years ago and we have tried most of the recipes, except where the ingredients aren’t available, like truffles or frogs’ legs, or cost is prohibitive. Risotto Barolo, for example, involves borlotti beans and stewing veal in “2 (or even 3) bottles of good Barolo”. Smiley emoji. The book joins the line of those where spine has detached from text; plastic covering was a good idea. This year we think of Lombardy, which is really where rice-growing took off on the peninsula in the Middle Ages. The grains came from China (also in our thoughts), though it’s the Arabs at the time who really brought rice cooking to the Mediterranean. Italian inventiveness w

Cookbooks 8: Alice B. Toklas

8. Alice B. Toklas. Student houses in the Seventies had a certain air. It was the residual scent of marijuana. Many a kitchen shelf held this book, famous for what the author calls Haschich Fudge. This is a distraction from its true value, but then many things are famous for the wrong reasons. It is astonishing today to read the instruction “A bunch of canibus sativa can be pulverised. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts.” What size bunch does she have in mind? This book is packed with recipes that intimate the bohemian salon world of Alice and her companion Gertrude Stein, Americans living together in Paris between 1907 and 1946. Readers of these two women learn that they frequently turned on meals for guests of all kinds, and legendarily the ritual of Sunday evening when many of the dishes here presented were presented. Gertrude Stein’s experimental writings are a mixed blessing, some people saying unkindly that the best way to read her is w