Sunday, November 3, 2013

For fans of good, classic food (and, perhaps, Phryne Fisher).


5 out of 5 stars

I came to this cookbook by way of the Phryne Fisher series of mysteries by Kerry Greenwood. In those books, one of Phryne's adopted daughters, Ruth, wishes to be a cook and the family's cook, Mrs. Butler, recommends The Gentle Art of Cookery as the best source for beginners. And as she's generally known to be, Mrs. Butler (not to mention Kerry Greenwood) was right.

The Gentle Art of Cookery was originally published in 1925 and presents seemingly complicated, French-flavored recipes in straightforward, plain, and easy to follow English, allowing you to create such dishes as Filets de Boeuf à la Carlsbad, Herrings à la Bohemienne, Épinards au Sucre, Navets Glacés, and Mousse au Café without having a dépression nerveuse (mental breakdown) over long-winded and complicated directions. Recipes are arranged by ingredient (Vegetables, Fish, Meat, etc.) and then broken down alphabetically according to the specific type of ingredient (beans, beetroot, cabbage, carrots, etc.), with some ingredients like Chestnuts and Mushrooms getting a chapter all to themselves. Then there are specific chapters devoted to specialty cooking; for example, there's a chapter devoted to Dishes from The Arabian Nights, Home-made Wines and Cups, Flower Recipes, and even Cooking for Children.

This edition is part of a series of reprinted classic cookbooks put out by Quadrille Publishing Limited and I, for one, am grateful Quadrille is reprinting these lovely books and hope they give us more. Not only are they a fun and quite readable glimpse into the past, they reintroduce us to classic dishes that have either been forgotten or put aside as being too fussy and fusty. This new edition is a lovely hardcover, with a sturdy sewn binding, allowing the book to be fully opened to any page. Not only that, but you can be confident of opening the book to the same page repeatedly without worrying over the binding coming apart as it would had it been simply glued. There's a silver satin ribbon bookmark to help you keep your place, and the pages are a slight off-white color with a clear typeface which reduces eye strain considerably. I don't know what the original edition of The Gentle Art of Cookery looked like, but what Quadrille Publishing Ltd. has created here is almost an exact duplicate of a book you might've seen being published a century ago. High-quality and hard-wearing, this is a book destined to become a family heirloom, one of those cookbooks read by young and old alike as its pages are turned, folded over, and dog-eared, and favorite recipes are starred, dripped on, modified, and drooled over. Just like Ruth, you might even keep this cookbook on your bedside table, to read at night and send you into delicious, food-centered dreams.

Read October 20-24, 2013
Reviewed November 13, 2013    

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