Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Old Cookbooks - Revisiting Claire Macdonald

Specifically my old cookbooks, in this case the first ones I remember buying - Claire Macdonald's 'Seasonal Cooking' and 'More Seasonal Cooking'.

Reading through Diana Henry's 'How To Eat a Peach' has got me thinking about how own food and cooking history, experiences, expectations, and hopes. It was way back sometime in the early 1990's and I'd been working for my stepmother (who is a cook). As I remember it, it was the point where we started to take it for granted that the ingredients we wanted would be available year round and sundried tomatoes became a real thing.

Bo (my stepmother) had both of these Claire Macdonald books, and we used them quite a bit. 'Seasonal Cooking', first published in 1983 seemed somewhat out of step with newer cookbooks I was seeing, but it also made a lot more sense to me. Good quality seasonal ingredients, many of them local, and recipes mostly pitched at dinner party level - so with a little bit of glamour about them.

Both books are divided into months, each month broken down into something that looks a lot like a restaurant menu (presumably the menus of Kinloch Lodge). It feels much more contemporary now than it did in the 90's. Looking at April's puddings it's rhubarb that's in season, so you get rhubarb fudge crumble, rhubarb meringue pie, rhubarb and ginger syllabub, ginger shortbread fingers (which go with the syllabub), and a rich chocolate and ginger pudding. Other months do the same thing for strawberries, gooseberries, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, and so on.

I'm not sure I even registered it at the time but it's an approach that really hammered home the importance of getting things at their best and making the most of them. This is also the book that helped me think about how to build and balance a meal over 3 courses. That's not something that came naturally - natural was to put all the things I liked best on the table regardless of how likely that would be to cause indigestion, or how well they might compliment each other.

It was only when I started working in the wine trade and was learning about how to match food and wine that it all really began to make sense. Learning how to match food to wine, rather than wine to food, was the eye opener though. You have to choose which is going to be the focus, better wine wants simpler food, it really helps you strip a menu down to its basics.

The lemon curd pavlova in 'Seasonal Cooking' remains one of my favourite desserts of all time, I haven't made it for years - I need an excuse to make it again soon. I've tagged a gooseberry and mint jam recipe that Macdonald recommends as an alternative for red current jam with lamb as well.

There's something very comforting about the tone of this book too; it's dinner at the big house with proper silver cutlery and lots of it, getting dressed up, and using the correct wine glasses. It's the kind of food that owes a lot to the hosts garden, and possibly the hosts skill with rod or gun, or at least is a testament to their relationship with their butcher. It's generous food that takes pleasure in good things and good company - and again looking at it now I can see how deeply all of this has sunk into my own ideas of what a good meal should be.

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