Saturday, October 3, 2009

How many is too many?

The partridges braised with honey and quince turned out pretty darned well, and as it’s not just the season for game cookbooks but also the season for game I think I’ll be cooking them again. (Although catching more quinces might be a challenge) I’m lucky to live near an excellent daily market; game is plentiful and cheap, or at least cheap enough to be appealing and definitely free range. The size of most game birds is appealing as well, just big enough for two or small enough to eat a whole one.

The market is another reason for my cook book obsession; it’s not just seasonal produce, put also Asian and Afro-Caribbean, there’s a lot to choose from, it changes daily and you can never guarantee that you’ll be able to find something so plenty of book based inspiration is handy.

I do remember a time when I thought that the number of cookbooks might be getting out of hand – a few Christmases ago I got nothing but cook books (8) and kitchen gadgets and had to except that everybody thought cooking was my thing. (Endless hints about new socks have fallen on deaf ears - apparently I say socks my friends hear blow torch.) Since then I have learnt to embrace the inevitable, the blow torch has proved remarkably handy and I’m already hopeful about what might be under the tree this year, but I still wonder how many is too many?

Clearly if I use or in any way refer to a book it’s presence on the shelf is justified, and all my cookbooks do get looked at, so that’s ok. I’ve been gathering them for long enough now to begin to see how much fashion changes in food (and in publishing) so they sort of form an interesting commentary on social history, which doesn’t interest me as much as it might. Having said that if the contents of our bookshelves say a lot about us, cookbooks possibly say the most, everything about how I aspire to live is in the kitchen, never mind the fiction.

All my cultural references are there as well as attitudes towards hospitality and entertaining, the books are worn enough to show they’re used and to show which ones are favourites and which ones reflect passing fancies. Even the way they sit on the shelf probably says a lot about my lack of orgonisation and general approach to life. All the wine books give a definite hint as to how I’ve earned a living for the last ten years, and it would be fair to say that baking is a bit of a hobby.

On the whole I can’t imagine ever having enough cookbooks; the perfect recipe for just such and such an occasion remains elusive. As long as I have people to share food with I will want new ways to cook it for them because another thing so many books indicate is that I like the opportunity to show off in the kitchen.

Partridges Braised with Quince and Honey for 4-6

2oz/50g Butter

2 or 3 young partridges

3 rashers of bacon de-rinded and chopped

1 medium to large onion finely chopped

1 medium size quince peeled and chopped (or a large apple)

½ a pint of stock

1 glass of white wine

Salt and pepper


2 tablespoons Crème Fraiche

Heat the butter in a casserole and put in the birds, bacon, onion and fruit. Cook for a few seconds stirring and shaking, then pour in the stock and wine and season. Put in a preheated oven (350F/gas 4/180C) for 1 ½ hours or until tender. Remove and half the birds, reduce the cooking sauce adding honey to taste. Liquidize and add the Crème Fraiche. Make sure the sauce is hot before pouring over the birds.


  1. Am very impressed at your cooking - thank goodness I am a vegetarian and will never have to attempt anything like that!

    I love what you say about books forming social history; I recently bought (and will be blogging about) Mary Keane's book of nursery cooking, and rather than interesting as a recipe book I found it fascinating as a description of food and cooking in the past.

  2. Oh Verity I can't wait to read your review, it's a book I periodically think about tracking down, so your opinion might well be the decider. I find cooking for vegetarians harder then meat eaters, it feels like more pressure to be interesting rather then pasta bake again...

  3. Your cookbook shelves are a thing of beauty in themselves. Being vegetarian, I tend to hone in on books that I know will have things I can eat, but I'm having fun browsing your titles and bookmarking a few to look for at the stores here. It's a lovely collection!