Food & Drink: Cook Book of the Week

THE DINNER QUESTION, OR HOW TO DINE WELL AND ECONOMICALLY By Tabitha Ticklebooth, Prospect Books, pounds 12.99, 192pp
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The Independent Culture
IT IS a sad fact that few modern cookery books are written as a good read. Even fewer contain general practical information on cooking. Most pad out their recipes with personal jottings and dozens of evocative photographs. You know the ones, chef author in kitchen with ingredient, recipe on plate, friends eating said recipe...

However, one flick through the redoubtable Mrs Tickletooth and you will discover that there is nothing new in culinary style sweeping away practical content.

Tabitha Tickletooth was the nom de plume of Charles Selby (c 1802-1863), an actor and comic farce dramatist. It seems that the virulent gastro- snobbism of the mid-19th century inspired him to assume the role of a portly Victorian matron, and write a cookery book that offered sound, practical advice while ridiculing the pretentious.

His, or should I say, her, majestic photograph stares loftily from the book's first page. He writes in a lively, verbose style. Here is a small snippet from the book:

"I now come to a dish which has so long been the terror of husbands, and is quoted by stomach-loving bachelors as one of their most powerful reasons against venturing on matrimony.

"HASHED MUTTON.

`Oh words of fear!

Unpleasing to the married ear.'

What a vista of steam, soap-suds, and the soles of his old boots swimming in greasy hot water..."

In theory, you could cook from this ebullient book, although the recipes are very much of their time. He covers everything from basic (Victorian) cooking techniques to lobster sauce. It is far more tempting to discover his thoughts on what to expect when washing a summer cabbage than to actually cook it a la Tickletooth.

And then there are his views on everything from suburban dining-houses to French versus English restaurants. I am afraid French cats come into it.

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