Top 10 cook books that have influenced me
When challenged to list the top 10 books that have influenced me most, apart from naming No1 (George Orwell – 1984), I struggled. My top 10 influential cookbooks was no problem, they map my adult life and my cookery journey has contributed to growing self-confidence and maturity (in a good way rather than a wrinkly one). Memories and food are indelibly linked.
- Good Housekeeping Cookery Book My Mother was given this when she left work as a secretary to get married (you did in those days). There were some colour pages but mainly just text and illustrations. There was a section of how to serve a dinner party without having servants. The chapters on offal fascinated me – who would seriously eat tripe? I bought myself a copy (not a trace of tripe) when I got married and it’s still a great reference for the basics.
- The Cook Book – Terence & Caroline Conran The first cook book I ever bought. It was a window on a world that I didn’t know existed, full of dinner parties where they broke chunks off a huge slab of parmesan and floated lighted Amaretti wrappers up to the ceiling. The first section was encyclopedic about food – most of the things I had never heard of. I used the step-by-step instructions to joint a rabbit with great success.
- Leith’s Cookery School – I devoured each lesson with gusto, reading rather than learning from practical experience as I lacked the time and the budget for the often exotic ingredients. At Christmas I jumped straight in at the final lesson and boned and stuffed a turkey (doing a lot of the prep after returning from various nightclubs) and collapsed in a triumphant but exhausted heap straight after the cannonball-shaped pudding.
- The Sunday Times Cookery Book – Arabella Boxer I drooled over the illustrations and photography which have not been matched by any other book. The final chapters were my first introduction to some lifelong cookery friends including Claudia Roden and Antonio Carluccio.
- At Home With The Roux Brothers – Michel & Albert Roux Not a fancy book by any means. It was published around the time of the ‘Take 6 cooks’ TV series. Kay Avilla asked Albert Roux what his ultimate meal would be. He described in detail a beautiful piece of sirloin and perfectly cooked pommes-frites. “So, steak and chips then?” said Kay. “Exactly.”
- A New Book of Middle Eastern Food – Claudia Roden My Mother gave this to me when I moved to Saudi Arabia. It is an authoritative work of food history as well as recipes. I first made a feast of hummus, mutabal, stuffed vine leaves and numerous other dishes – without using a food processor. A Lebanese guest was effusive “I can’t believe you did all this. It’s exactly like my Mother makes.” I didn’t know whether to feel honoured or like a little old lady in black! My well-thumbed copy was signed by Claudia herself at the Emirates Literature Festival in 2009.
- The Naked Chef – Jamie Oliver Yes, I know! Just remember that he was a breath of fresh air when he arrived. His recipes were accessible and fitted in with my life as a new wife and mum. Antonio Carluccio inspired me to get a pasta machine, Jamie inspired me to use it.
- How to Eat – Nigella Lawson This book fitted into my life on many levels including as a bedside read. From marmite sandwiches (love them) to dishes that were good enough to serve to friends but meant you weren’t missing out on the conversation for most of the evening. This marks a growing up time in my life.
- The Art of the Tart – Tamasin Day-Lewis I have cooked more recipes from this than any other book. It banished my fear of pastry-making and is the source of my ‘signature pudding’ – chocolate and apricot tart. I went on to buy every book she’s ever written.
- Ottolenghi – The Cook Book This has taken me into a new realm of lighter, healthier cooking (dragging me away from my beloved stews and creamy puddings). Not that it’s all healthy – the meringues are legendary.
P.S. River Cottage Every day – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall More power to Hugh’s elbow for his passion about the sourcing and provenance of food. I support his Chicken Out campaign and backing of Compassion in World Farming. This latest book has inspired me to bake my own bread nearly all the time too.
P.P.S. The Top 10 books that have influenced me:
- 1984 – George Orwell (read over 30 times – the scales fell from my eyes)
- The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton (coming of age book)
- Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood (fear for the world while laughing – so much is plausible in this book)
- The Babel Tower – A.S. Byatt (a door on the world of intellectuals and sadists in equal measure)
- Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy (first school read that proved ‘literature’ can be compelling)
- Oscar and Lucinda – Peter Carey (stretched my view of what a novel could achieve)
- A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch – Alexander Solzhenitsyn (turning the screw of dislike for this regime and its effects on my family)
- The Rock of Tanios – Amin Maalouf (made me think deeply about the history of the region I live in)
- Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord – Louis de Bernieres (opened my eyes to the level of corruption and brutality of a drugs culture)
- Dickens – Peter Ackroyd (Dickens is the epitome of ‘can-do’ spirit and cared about injustice)
My eyes are always drawn to people’s book shelves when I enter a room – so satisfy my curiosity – share your top 10s with me. Go on.