Book Of A Lifetime: Collins Family Cookery, By Elizabeth Craig
Friday 07 October 2011
Elizabeth Craig's formidable career as a cookery writer spanned 60 years, and she must have been in her seventies when in 1957 she compiled this culinary bible for the post-austerity generation. My mother acquired the neat brick of a volume with its no-nonsense white cloth binding and lurid colour photographs soon after her marriage in 1959. During my childhood, I was frequently to find it lying open on the Formica, dusted with flour, as she consulted it for Liver and Kidney Devil or one of the hated milk puddings then considered de rigueur for healthy children. "Yoghourt" (sic) gets only a brief mention on p.764, under "Invalid Cookery". Ski, the "full of fitness food", wasn't to brighten children's mealtimes until the 1970s.
I love the book as a snapshot of my mother's times. Its peremptory foreword, by the author's husband, commends it for keeping alive the art of cooking, which he fears is slowly dying. He berates the "lazy or overburdened housewife" for serving the new "pre-fabricated" food. In her introduction, Craig pre-empts the thrifty who might "jib at the general use of butter or gasp at savoury dishes containing six eggs". Britain had finally come off the ration four years before, and this cookbook celebrated the fact.
I love it, too, because it was part of my childhood. Born in 1960, I saw wartime deprivation as ancient history, and picked out the naughty treats to cook: shortbread, vanilla fudge (made with delicious evaporated milk), Victoria sponges, coconut ice and peppermint crèmes. Licking out the bowl or saucepan should have been written into the recipes!
There were dishes that neither I nor my mother would touch. Jellied Madrilerie Soup (Craig was proud of her international recipes), Ortolan, Astrakhan of Hazel Hen. There really is an entry for Calf's foot jelly (not just administered to ailing Victorian parishioners, then) and something called, disturbingly, Good Wife Soup, which makes you wonder what Craig recommended was done with the bad ones. There were strange methods and measurements too. To "tammy", we are told, is to strain through a worstead cloth. A "peck" of apples means two quarts.
My mother presented me with her precious volume soon after my own marriage, old fudge crumbs still caught between its well-thumbed pages. I use it now for jams and mint jelly, for plain cooking: apple charlotte, shortcrust pastry, icings, cakes and bread sauce. The shepherd's pie recipe is good, though I've never yielded to the suggested substitution of whale meat for the lamb.
The hostess menus, I fear, are rightly consigned to history. There's something of the butcher's counter about the photograph of Jellied Tomato Salad, and the over-iced Crinoline Lady cake must be sickly – but oh, how I long for those far-off days of the Georgian silver teapot and the cakestand for tea with great-aunts. 'Collins Family Cookery' will always be part of my life. Who knows, in my invalid old age, I might even need it for Carrageen Jelly, whatever that might be!
Rachel Hore's new novel, 'A Gathering Storm', is published by Simon & Schuster
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