Food: COOKING THE BOOKS
PUTTING RECIPES TO THE TEST WITH RICHARD EHRLICH
Sunday 17 May 1998
My Cooking the Books Guinea Pig for this feast was Anna Evans, of Cowley in Devon. She worked almost as hard at the project as Cezanne did at Mont St-Victoire, cooking eight recipes and providing a lengthy report, and her conclusions were not entirely happy.
PHYSICAL EASE AND DESIGN
"Easy to handle, stays open well on a book stand, paper has a good-quality feel. I have left the book lying around the house and most visitors have picked it up and been enthusiastic."
"The writer assumes that the buyers of her book are all experienced cooks. Quantities are not always stipulated." This forced Anna to "rough-guess" in a dish called Medieval Chicken - with unhappy results. She also objects to the old-fashioned use of "low", "medium" and "hot" for oven temperatures, which, again, assumes an experienced readership. Although there is a guide to temperatures in the back of the book, this surprised me as well, even if others using the convention include Elizabeth David. Some instructions were so economical with detail as to be misleading, and "there were no helpful tips included for the cook's benefit."
But Anna was most concerned that Riley dismisses the idea that dried pulses need pre-soaking, and sent contradictory citations from other books. Soaking is not absolutely necessary in a life-threatening Armageddon- ish way, but it is the best way to eliminate mild toxins which can turn pulses from A Feast for the Eyes into An Assault on the Nose. It also shortens cooking times, which is reason enough to do it even if the famously audible after-effects don't bother you. On the other hand, Anna acknowledges that she managed to produce some good food from A Feast for the Eyes.
It was tasted by a total of nine Eating Guinea Pigs, and of the eight dishes cooked only one, a Pumpkin Soup "inspired" by Van Gogh, failed to win plaudits. (This is one of the dishes containing dried beans, and I must say the cooking times look hopelessly optimistic.) Anna was particularly impressed by the way a huge volume of whole spices "mellowed to such a delicious taste" in a Spiced Chocolate Cake. She also liked Orange and Pistachio Tart, even though the "over-generous" quantity of pastry produced "a rather thick shell".
"Some of the recipes are quite time consuming (of necessity). Also, I could not cook all I wanted to because in Devon the fresh herbs stipulated are not always readily available. Some ingredients are on the expensive side, but I don't think this would put readers off - especially if they wanted to cook for special occasions. The book is a good read, and very informative on various periods of history."
"Could not be faulted", says Anna, and with contributors including Mantegna, Jan van Eyck and Velzquez, who could disagree? The paper is good and reproduction of sound quality.
VALUE FOR MONEY
"Overall I enjoyed this book and feel that it is not overpriced at pounds 15. With the exception of the Pumpkin Soup the dishes I cooked were well received, and the flavours were excellent." But Anna qualifies her praise by calling A Feast for the Eyes "more of a pic- torial record of food consumed during different times" than "a cookery book which would be well used in modern kitchens." Without having actually cooked from the book, I have to say that I agree with this sentiment.
MARKS: SIX OUT OF TEN
Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Canadian actor punched in face after 'Islamophobia' experiment goes wrong in wake of Ottawa shooting
- 2 Topshop at centre of row over body image as 'shocking' skinny mannequin photo goes viral
- 3 Woman blinded as a child can see again after hitting her head on a coffee table
- 4 Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson criticised for beer tweet
- 5 The bubble bursts for Sodastream
JK Rowling's Harry Potter Halloween stories: Dolores Umbridge was based on real person she 'disliked intensely'
Best horror films of all time
Your Halloween playlist: From 'Thriller' and 'Ghostbusters' to Marilyn Manson and Eminem
Benedict Cumberbatch describes the 'explosive' Sherlock sex scene that will never happen
Downton Abbey season 5 episode 6 - review: Thomas and Lady Edith show sad signs of the times
Pope Francis declares evolution and Big Bang theory are real and God is not 'a magician with a magic wand'
Huge surge in Ukip support after EU funding row, according to new poll
Ukip ‘exploiting grooming scandal’ to secure party’s first police chief
Nigel Farage: 'There’s nothing wrong with white people blacking up'
Maureen Lipman says 'she can't vote Labour while Ed Miliband is leader'
Muslims, immigration and teenage pregnancy: British people are ignorant about almost everything