Margaret Costa's Four Seasons Cookery Book is one that I have known and used for many years now. To call it a classic is almost an understatement. I prefer to categorise it as a great work of cookery writing, and would think of the writer in the same breath as Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson.
Grub Street Publishers have had the nous to republish Four Seasons (Grub Street, pounds 17.99) in a brand-new, Day-Glo green, shiny, hardback copy, with up-to-date metric measurements and a foreword by Delia Smith. Which in itself is curious, because in fact it was Delia who gave me a spare copy of hers, as my very own, original, hardback copy. Before this, I was using my mother's much stained paperback.
It is a beautifully laid-out book, most pertinent to the seasons, as the name suggests, and sections within the four chapters are charmingly titled. For example, in "Spring" (16 sections) you will find Easter teas; salt, pepper and mustard; and "pieces of cake"; as well as obvious seasonal treats such as asparagus and lamb. There is also a section devoted to pancakes. The "Summer" section includes cold soups (no fewer than nine recipes); chicken, duck and a small turkey; and custard cup puddings. "Winter" has "comforting breakfasts", casseroles, and a section on "proper puddings".
But the best bits, for me, are the introductions and the chatty snippets in the recipe text, designed to inspire and educate the curious cook. They certainly inspired this very curious cook, because I would be a silly old fibber if I didn't admit that I was wildly influenced by Margaret Costa's book when writing my own Roast Chicken and Other Stories.
In the Sixties Bobby Freeman had a good restaurant and small hotel in Fishguard, West Wales. It may possibly be called a restaurant avec chambres now, but not then. Good God, boyo, when Hoppy had a small restaurant there in 1977, it was difficult to find a tube of tomato puree in the local shops: "We've got ketchup, bach, will that do?"
But then Bobby decided to write a cookery book about Welsh food (no doubt having become disillusioned with being a restauratrice; it can happen to the very best people). First Catch Your Peacock was originally published in 1980. She did not have a happy time getting the book published, having been told that there was "no such thing as Welsh food" and that it was "an absurd title for a serious work".
However, she was determined to succeed in her idea - perhaps it was a bit wacky, but therein lies the charm. The resultant book is a small masterpiece. It has a recipe for Welsh salt duck served with creamed onion sauce (wonderful, and a match for French confit any day); and oyster sausages - which I am most keen to try - in which the shucked and poached oysters are chopped with herbs, cooked egg yolks, anchovies, spices and a little shredded suet, then shaped, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried in butter. These sound more like titbits Burton Racey or Ray White might use to amuse the mouth with, than recipes inspired by "the manuscript book compiled by Merryell Williams, Ystumcolywyn, early 18th century, in the Peniarth collection, National Library of Wales".
First Catch Your Peacock (from publishers Y Lolfa Cyf, Talybont, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY24 5HE, pounds 9.95) is a fascinating read, full of the culture and social history of Welsh cookery, which contains some excellent authentic recipes. And, yes, there is one for peacock. Now, may I belatedly thank everyone who wrote to me with recipes for lardy cake? It was a remarkable response (more than 40 letters) and made fascinating reading. If I had only thought to look in Jane Grigson's English Food, I would not have been chided by Linda Harris from Bedford, who thought I was just plain lazy, but decided not to send a recipe because she presumed I would be inundated. True.
So, after reading all the recipes that you so kindly sent (though not lazy Linda from Bedford - just kidding, Linda) it only falls to me to choose the one that is most appealing. Well, readers, I'm still testing them, becoming fatter by the minute and enjoying the feel of warm lard running through my fingers. By next week, I hope to be able to inform you which particular lardy cake came out tops (tsk, tsk - honestly, the things one has to do in this job...)Reuse content