I love Julian Barnes! He is a classy author. This was hilarious and very well written. Even though, none of the cookbooks mentioned in the book is for me because I’m a vegetarian, I enjoyed it so much.
A friend of mine is waiting to borrow it from me. She’ll bring it back, no doubt about that but if Kindle version becomes available, I’d like to keep that version and she can keep the paperback then.
Here’s my favourite lines from the book:
“Artists should have their tongues cut out.” Matisse
Those who can, cook; those who can’t, wash up. And while we’re about it: pedantry and non-pedantry only of temperament, not of culinary skill. Non-pedants frequently misunderstand pedants and are inclined to adopt an air of superiority. ‘Oh, I don’t know recipes,’ they will say, as if cooking from a text were like making love with a sex-manual open at your elbow.
It starts with simple words. How big is a ‘lump’, how voluminous is a ‘slug’ or a ‘gout’, when does a ‘drizzle’ become rain?
So much for the oral tradition. Anyway, I had a go at this authorised version, and it made a bowl of beautifully pink semolina sludge with some indissoluble lumps in the bottom. It tasted like a vaguely nutritious wallpaper paste.
This is Davidism with a human face and a smile of complicity.
Perhaps, as well as cooking time and number of portions, recipes should also carry a Depression Probability rating. From one to five hangman’s noose.
…tasted wonderful, but it looked like something regurgitated.
Lesson Two: that the relationship between professional and domestic cook has similarities to a sexual encounter. One party is normally more experienced than the other; and either party should have the right, at any moment, to say, ‘No, I’m not going to do that.’
You never step into the same stream twice, and a cook never steps into the same recipe twice.
‘Typical bloody recipe,’ I sympathised, and urged the application of Pedant’s Rule 15b. this lays down that when quantities of an ingredient are left unspecified, you should add a lot of any item you like, a little of what you’re less keen on, and none at all of what you don’t fancy.
It’s practically a dictionary definition. Cooking is the transformation of uncertainty (the recipe) into certainty (the dish) via fuss.
Olney comes to the conclusion that ‘simplicity is a complicated thing’. The modern mantra goes, ‘If food is not simple, it is not good.’ Olney prefers its inversion: ‘If food is not good, it is not simple.’
‘A failure is no disgrace and may very often be more instructive than a success.’
Maybe it’s something to do with the words themselves. ‘Swede’ sounds more edible—sort of half mashed already—in English; whereas ‘le rutabaga’ is a chewily indigestible mouthful of phonemes. Ditto ‘le topinambour’, whose outsides happen to contain the word ‘tambour’ (‘drum’), thus seeming to hint at the timpani-bursts of colonic venting that a really forceful Jerusalem artichoke gives rise to. The ‘Jerusalem’ part—while we’re on the subject of misleading etymologies—doesn’t refer to any supposed place of origin, but is a mishearing of the French ‘girasol’, ‘sunflower’, which is generically related to the fartichoke.
All his life the funeral connotations simply overrode his taste buds.
In those days too we boiled beetroot in aluminium saucepans, having taken care to twist off the tops rather than cut them, as this would cause only mild bleeding rather than the full haemorrhage; now we roast them in a slow oven, no more than gas mark 1 or 2, and little blood escapes.
Everything has its fashion cycle; even simple, necessary things.
All too often, high anxiety destroys the pleasures of anticipation, drink half-obliterates the moment itself, and the sort of hangover that makes it seem as if the washing-up keeps reproducing itself behind your back diminishes the recollection.
…when my yeast fantasies were on the rise…
But you can’t really know what you want until you’ve got it wrong the first time. (Some apply that same principle to marriage.)
Gross errors typical of ‘so-called modern kitchens’ would be avoided. Amazingly many are designed with ‘refrigerators next to the cooking stove. This seems to me almost as mad as having a wine-rack above it.’ The perfect Elizabeth David kitchen would, in summary, ‘be more like a painter’s studio furnished with cooking equipment than anything conventionally accepted as a kitchen’.