Since Christopher Hirst took Mrs H down the aisle, or register office corridor, the worldly goods with which he has endowed her have included literally hundreds of cookery books, including a volume which gives instructions for seabird guano soup. The three largest, one of which warns that its recipes should be attempted only by professionals with specialist equipment, between them totalled 2,137 massive pages. Even more than most recipe books, these contained many dishes which are never going to be cooked by its readers.
If you want a cookbook with recipes you don't need to cook, Love Bites is for you. (You can if you want to: indeed, I had already done some, such as boiling an egg.) Its 324 pages are as witty as is to be expected from a man who used to write the wonderful "Weasel" column in the Independent magazine. He takes tips from the biographer of Alexander the Great. He consults Mrs Beeton on turtle soup: "Cut off the head of the turtle." When his raspberry jam gets the raspberry in a village competition, he consoles himself with the wisdom of Matthew vii.1: "Judge not lest ye be judged."
Mr H talks us through their recipes, blow by blow. Not literally - though fisticuffs is obviously a temptation for Mrs H when working with him on a Victorian sponge, the keynote cake she had made for her Domestic Science O-level. "NOW IT'S TIME TO ADD THE FLOUR," she snaps. "Did you notice I was talking in capitals?" To her husband, who specialises in undomesticated non-science, 4.4 ounces is exactly the same as 4 ounces. Hence the constant strife from his trouble-and-strife.
Plunging the reader in at the shallow end, he starts the book with the boiled egg. His findings accord with my own: avoid timers but give it four minutes by the clock and then some. We both discover that this timing is just right for our respective partners. Neither ever boils their own eggs, so we have our uses. We can also reach up to utensils on high shelves.
The second chapter starts with shoulder of lamb, which by a truly psychic coincidence was what I was cooking while reading Love Bites. Unfortunately the tales of the Hirsts' kitchen distracted me from my own until I was reminded of it by the scent of singed sheep. I could then test Mrs H's solution for when their wood-fired oven for cooking pizzas in the garden is engulfed by flames: a hosepipe. Works every time.