I picked up a Teen Age cookery book at a book fair the other day. Note the two words, as opposed to the more standard “Teenage” we use today. I always thought the term was born in the late 50s/early 60s but no, the date on this book is 1948. You learn something new every day. It’s titled “What’s Cookin’?” A valiant attempt to sound hip and cool, I’m guessing. Never mind. In the first chapter, Picnic Fare, we are treated to a “Surprise Turnover.” I would imagine that most teenagers are familiar with that one already. Oh – I see – it’s not a bit of how’s-your-father on the tartan picnic rug, it’s a savoury pastry instead. What a let-down.
This book does have illustrations (unlike many old ones I have): full-page and in colour, no less. They are a scream. Everyone is dressed so formally – the men in suits, blazers and ties, the women in skirt suits with nipped-in waists and jerkins with peasant-style blouses. In one picture of a party, the heading reads: “Make the occasion a gay one and earn the gratitude of friends.”
It was written when rationing was still going strong. Under “Fair Fare” (subtitle: “Give your friends a VARIED (sic) menu!” I note there is the wondrous-sounding “Prune mountain.” Well, if nothing else, you will almost certainly have given your friends a night to remember if you go ahead with that one…
Moving swiftly on (as indeed they probably all had to), I have a few books aimed specifically for children (duck!). There’s one written by the famous TV duo of Fanny and Johnnie Craddock, with an interesting handwritten message inside: “Prize for picnic competition, 8/9/59” and rather oddly headed: “Elizabethan.” I guess we’ll never know. Suggestions include: “For picnic meals in the garden and entertaining on the porch or terrace at home.” Because we all had one of those, didn’t we, girls and boys?
Then there’s “Cookery For Girls.” We’ll ignore the blatant sexism in that title and just focus on the recipes, shall we? Everything is pictured in colourful line drawings, so you know exactly what a tablespoon of macaroni looks like (not very much, to this greedy girl) and how to turn out a jelly (very, very carefully, I would say) and every stage is illustrated, making it somehow not so scary. It assumes you know nothing, which is fine by me! It makes for a very colourful book. In fact, why just stick to children? I think this could work for adults, too. It certainly works for this adult, anyway. I note the recipe for “Girdle Cake.” I’m going to need one of those very soon, at this rate.
Finally, in the children’s section, we have ”Clare Goes Cooking”. Well, I had to buy that one, didn’t I? Another cookbook in pictures for young people. They have all the fun. I’m impressed she’s cooking full meals for her family, though. She looks very young in the pictures. Anything to get out of doing maths and geography homework, eh, Clare?
Now for another couple of exciting titles: Cooking For Bachelors (them again) and one, Carefree Cookery, especially written for brides AND bachelors (eh?)! Inside, there’s our old favourite, Brown Stew again, closely followed by Sea Pie (see pie and eat it). Now, what is this? Sheep’s Head Broth! Yes, all nervous new brides and carefree, care-less bachelors should be aware of this one. Instruction: “To prepare the head, soak overnight, if possible.” Can you imagine the scenario? Newly-weds thinking amorous thoughts as the night draws on. Suddenly, she evades his ardent embrace and rushes off to the kitchen, crying: “I forgot to soak the head!” Immediate exit of amorous thoughts.
Or the debonair bachelor, planning a cosy little tete-a-tete back at his pad. The lights are low, the music soft; the mood is set. She asks to use the bathroom. There is a piercing scream. Too late, the hapless bachelor remembers he had been soaking the head in the bath, as his one-and-only saucepan wasn’t big enough. Exit would-be new partner, at the speed of light…
“Cookery For Men Only” – such a risqué title! – includes “Poaching For Women.” A new sport involving hunting them down? That would certainly chime with the book’s title but no, slightly disappointingly, it simply and rather unexcitingly means poaching eggs and, for some reason best known to the author, includes women in with invalids for this recommended way of cooking! Bizarre. I mean, I know we’re supposed to be the weaker sex and all that, but this is getting ridiculous.
“Cooking In Ten Minutes” by Edouard de Pomiane is also aimed at the bachelor (I’d aim it at his head) but what intrigued me most about this quaint little classic is not what’s within its pages, amusing and useful though it all is, but the scrap of a letter which fell out of it when I got it home (used as a bookmark, I’m guessing). It’s page five only, more’s the pity. Clearly someone who likes to write letters. I love finding this sort of treasure in old books and I quite often do. I want to repeat what this little snippet says, in full: “When they ask what I want I am like Wendy, the 13-year-old granddaughter and say I want nothing but I told Barbara this year I would like a full-length slip and she said ‘I’m not buying you a slip or any underwear’ so I said don’t ask me again. What a pest this gift-giving is! If they gave me the money it would help a lot. Do you make a fuss at Xmas or do you keep it low-key? I’d like to dispense with it altogether. Did you watch ‘Pride and Prejudice?’ I loved it…” We will never know which bit she enjoyed most, though I think we can probably guess. Just what DID she get for Xmas, if not the underwear she required? Did she bravely announce very soon afterwards that she was dispensing with it altogether? I do hope she did. And, by the way, “underwear” to you, snotty Barbara, whoever you were!