I officially started my Christmas planning today (I bought some cards and an advent calendar, then a bottle of Edunburgh distillery Christmas gin as a reward for being so organised, and then this cookbook because I was on a roll with the rewards and had some Waterstonrs vouchers, and so it will continue.) I know it's still October, but I also know if I don't think about it now I won't enjoy it.
The Fortnum & Mason Cookbook was irrisistable - I don't remember the first time I went there, probably some time in the late eighties (I do remember being shocked that a plain white t shirt cost £60 on one visit) but for a long time no trip to London has been complete without looking in. I love the windows, the wine and spirits are always worth a look, and they're one of only a few places in the country that stock Caron's Tabac Blond perfume. It's an established treat to go and buy something from the patisserie (currently Canelés - which you cannot find in Leicester) after seeing an exhibition at the RA. They have Grains of Paradise in their spice range. They have good tea in even better packaging, and the staff wear tailcoats.
It's an institution, a tourist destination, it's where Peter Wimsey (or more likely, Bunter) purchased provisions for his honeymoon with Harriet, I always find something interesting in there, and I have a deep affection for the place (along with a healthy admiration for their marketing strategy).
The book itself is a reflection of all these things. Tom Parker Bowles says he hopes its a cookbook that will be well used - and it might be, though it's not altogether my style of food. I'm not sure anybody needs to publish a recipe for porridge (especially one which is essentially the same as on the side of a packet) and probably not for rice pudding (with or without jam) either. On the other hand the seed cake recipe looks great, the instructions for a baked ham sound good too (much better than the recipe I struggled to find, despite owning hundreds of cookbooks, last time I tried to bake one).
On the whole the recipes reflect the charm of the shop though - they're smart versions of very traditional things with the odd twist (summer pudding flavoured with rose water and decorated with rose petals, lamb cutlets with a red current and mint glaze along with a whisper of HP sauce). There are things that sound decadently (impractically) luxurious - caviar boiled eggs where the eggs need to be boiled for 6 minutes, cooled, have the yolks removed, scramble more eggs (with double cream) then refill the boiled egg shells with the scrambled eggs and top with caviar (I am never doing this). And then the surprisingly practical and appealing (the ham and the seed cake again). There are also charming illustrations, a lot of them by Edward Bawden, from the Fortnum & Mason archive and lots of little bits of history.
I haven't cooked from it yet, but I've certainly enjoyed this afternoon reading it, which has had the same feeling of escaping from everyday cares that visiting the shop gives me - and on that basis alone it's a winner.