28 JUNE 1963, Page 25

Consuming Interest


By ELIZABETH DAVID APART from the works of Marcel Boulestin, available only in the form of an an- thology* (second-hand copies of his original books are almost impossible to find) compiled after his death, I can think, offhand, of no more than three English cookery books dating from the Twenties and the Thirties which have, or deserve to have, survived (1932), Countess Morphy's Recipes of All Nations: (1935) and Hilda Leyd's Gentle Art of Cookery (Chatto, 1925). Of the three ladies it is Countess Morphy whose influence is most felt today. Her book, at first unnoticed, made a terrific impact, especially on the young, when, bought up by Selfridges, it appeared, bound in a series of eye-catching colours and piled on tables plumb in the centre of that enterprising store's book department at 3s. 6d. a copy and 5s. for the version which included a thumb index to each country's recipes. (It is one of the weak- nesses of the book that it still contains no com- plete index. How one longs for publishers to stop publishing new cookery books just for one day and attend to the matter of providing efficient indexes for the ones they've already got.) More than any other single factor it was the effect of Countess Morphy's book which, directly or indirectly, it seems to me, prepared the way for the great post-war wave of 'Good Brazilian Cooking' and 'Cook it the Maltese Way' books. When Recipes of All Nations

,, appeared it was the first, and for many years remained the only one, of its kind. During the years of scarcity it proved more helpful than . any of our conventional English and French l cookery books. Subsequently it was used as a source book by every English author who has produced or attempted to produce books deal- ing with the national cookery of other countries. One much-copied recipe, for a Belgian dish called Lapin aux pruneaux, is always recognis- able by its last line. 'Just before serving, add one tablespoon of gooseberry jam.' Presumably Countess Morphy, in an absent-minded moment, translated confitttre de groseilles as gooseberry iarn instead of as redcurrant jelly. That the slip, if slip it is, has been so often reproduced is indicative of the way in which Recipes of All Nations has been plagiarised. Not that the Pillaging of other people's research work or the lifting of recipes word_ for word, warts and all,

anything new. (Among cookery authors who have bitterly complained about the practice are tiliza Acton and Escoffier, although really it is the readers who should complain.) What Is unusual about this particular pilot book is that none of its imitators has yet produced a better one, possibly because the defects in Countess Morphy's book were (apart from the lack of an index) also its virtues. It was, and remains, a book of ideas rather than a manual of instruction. The criticisms which could be,

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and have been, made of it are that it is in- complete, and that for an inexperienced cook many of the recipes are too sketchy. In a book already nearly 700 pages long and dealing in some detail with the cookery of fourteen European countries and, more briefly, with that of the United States, India, China and Japan, plus a few pages devoted to 'dishes from other lands,' detailed instructions for every recipe and explanations about every exotic ingredient men- tioned would be deadly; few people after all need a study in depth of the subtle differences between the methods of cooking sweet potatoes as practised on the Ivory Coast, Guinea and Dahomey. It is Countess Morphy's great virtue that while never telling us more than we want to know what she does tell us is convincing, and ferments that urge to get into the kitchen and set about trying a new dish which is just the quality lacking in any round-the-world-in-a- saucepan compendium published since the war. Extracts and pickings and rewritings from a dozen books all piled into one may provide massive information but seldom any person- ality or compulsion.

The test of Countess Morphy's book is that having owned- it for well over twenty-five years I find that it still holds new discoveries. The brief chapter on the cooking of the French West Indies is one I had never until the other day particularly noticed. These few pages con- tain no more than thumbnail sketches of recipes which, embroidered with local colour or gushing enthusiasm, would be repulsively picturesque and utterly unconvincing. Countess Morphy didn't fall into that trap. She simply outlined, in half a dozen lines apiece, the com- position of such dishes as Pintentade, Calalou,

Accrats de belangeres, Feroce de morue, Daube de poisson. Pate de crabes, Bananes en daubs. Bceuf Creole. Now there's one I've never tried. like the sound of it: The characteristic of this dish is that no water or liquid is added to it. Put 2 or 3 lb. of

rump of beef in an earthenware casserole, on a few slices of fat bacon. Season with salt, pepper and chilli pepper, finely chopped, and cover

the meat with 2 lb. of sliced onions and the same of tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 31 to 4 hours.

A charge of plagiarism is one that cannot be levelled at the author of Cooking the Middle East Way (Wan Orga, Spring Books, 5s.), Many. of his recipes appear to be entirely imaginary and to bear absolutely no relation at all to the work of anyone else whatsoever. least of all to that of any Middle Eastern cook I ever encountered. It is possible that some of the dishes he describes were inspired--and the incidence of button mushrooms, glace cherries, tangerines, wine (sweet red quite often), gelatine and 'cultured cream' in the lists of ingredients for meat, poultry and even fish recipes, makes one think that perhaps they were--by the cooking of the Nile, Istanbul and Teheran Hiltons. If this is the case the book may be more useful than it looks; tourists will like to be warned that fried red mullet with gooseberry sauce is a dish served nowadays on the banks of the old Nile; Alexandrian artichokes cooked in eider may surprise even Lawrence Durrell; +,eal stuffed with fresh pineapple (Cypriot) lends as they say glamour, and heaven knows it needs the loan, to the cooking of Archbishop Makarios's native heath, and it is reassuring to learn that the 'peasants' of the Middle East are now sufficiently well-fed never to cook a vegetable dish without adding 'lamb or veal' to it. Nevertheless, the opening lines of the author's introduction—`The Middle East has always had an enviable reputation for good living although in the past this applied more to the Ottoman rulers than to the people as a whole'—are as silly and heartless as anything I have ever seen in a cookery book. The author of this twaddle once wrote a helpful and sane volume on the virtues of yoghurt and its uses in cooking. It is sad and embarrassing to see him fall a victim to a publisher's plans for a series of instant books on international cookery.