Reading Nora Ephron’s book ‘I Feel Bad About my Neck’ (recommended by my friend and fellow-translator, Nina Rimon-Davis) I came to the piece about her involvement with cookery books. That, of course, set me off thinking about my own experience with them. Naturally, I’ve seen the movie she directed, ‘Julie and Julia,’ and loved it.
I did not, however, entirely identify with the heroine, Julie, who attempted to cook her way through ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ by Beck, Bertholle and Child. In my view, anyone who attempts to do so is seriously in need of psychological help.
My story is slightly different. When our first child was born in 1967 my husband arrived at the hospital with gifts. What were they? I hear you cry. No, there were no diamond rings, gold bracelets or precious trinkets of the kind that other new fathers are apt to bestow on their wives. What Yigal brought me was: 1. a pink floppy hat, 2. a small chocolate cake, and 3. the Beck, Bertolle, Child cookery book (paperback edition). How original and imaginative!
What I did not know at the time was that if there is anything my husband hates it’s French cuisine. Neither he nor I know why he bought the book. I suppose he thought it was a good idea at the time. Perhaps he didn’t realize that no self-respecting French cook produces anything that does not contain wine, cream, cheese or milk – all items that Yigal abhors in their cooked form.
On returning home from the hospital, once baby Dana had settled into a comfortable routine of a feed every four hours and I had got over the exhaustion that producing a baby engenders, I embarked on trying to produce some of the dishes in that fat tome. Its grease-spattered pages are a testament to my valiant efforts to produce a perfect roast chicken, to blanch vegetables before proceeding to cook them, or to concoct a dessert that does not consist solely of fresh melon or watermelon cut into chunks.
None of my efforts were appreciated by the audience of one for which they were intended, and as time went by I eventually abandoned all pretence of aspiring to haute cuisine and settled down to a diet of chicken soup, boiled chicken, plain rice and salad. As our other children came along and grew up I ventured into more adventurous realms, and even managed occasionally to produce beef rissoles, chicken roasted with honey and mustard, and similar ‘exotic’ fare, at which Yigal turned pale and made a beeline for the boiled chicken and rice from which, it seems, he was never weaned.
But fortunately Beck, Bertholle, Child (the names are seared into my memory) was not my first cookery book. Even before our wedding, probably because she realized that I was a complete novice in the kitchen, my sister sent me Len Deighton’s ‘Action Cookbook.’ Now, that was a cookbook after my own heart, even though Deighton’s novels are not really my cup of tea.
The ‘Action Cookbook’ gives clear and simple instructions, mainly in comic-strip form, for dishes that are pretty basic. Apparently, these ‘cook-strips,’ as he calls them, first appeared in the serious UK weekly, ‘The Observer,’ and in 1965 were published in book form. I tried a few of the recipes and even managed to slip some past the ever-watchful food censor. But even without preparing the food, it is just great fun to look at the pictures and read the – often humorous – text. Len Deighton undoubtedly has a way with words, and since no illustrator is acknowledged in the book, he presumably is good at drawing, too.
Since those first heady days I have acquired quite a library of cookery books, as well as a card index of tried and tested recipes culled from newspapers, magazines, friends and relations. Together with my sisters I have even produced one containing our mother’s recipes. But most of those have remained in their pristine condition, and have not been subjected to the wear and tear of those first two milestones in my culinary career.