We went to a amazing series of lectures last week at the ICA, looking at the link between food and fashion. Senior Research fellow at the London College of Fashion, Val Williams talked about her favourite cookery book, Good Housekeeping Colour Cookery, and it's role in promoting cookery writing that defined a lifestyle.
Her talk brought memories flooding back of the kind of food we enjoyed in the 70's. It also made me feel very sorry for my mum and the women of her generation who were expected to peel grapes and insert cream cheese, curl ham and pipe potatoes. It was the age of the hostess gown and hostess trolley and most importantly the hostess. Do you ever remember your dad cooking? I certainly don't, well not unless mum was laid up in bed.
Val pointed out how sniffy we have become about convenience food and thinks that the whole slow food concept is unrealistic for many working parents. We completely agree. It really is a challenge to cook a whole meal from scratch after a hard day at work. Especially for teenagers who will inevitably have been snacking since 3.30 and wont fancy anything you have cooked!
Convenience food was a way for women to escape the domestic shackles many were still lumbered with in the 60's and 70's. Ok maybe we have gone too far now, as many people think cooking is nothing more than pricking a fork into plastic and pressing a button! But it did make us think that maybe we shouldn't beat ourselves up so much (especially on a week night!)
We love the idea that cookery books define a time in history. The 70's were all about being a hostess and elaborate decoration, think Margot Leadbetter having Jerry's boss, Andrew, round for dinner! Ingredients were limited as we still relied on mainly British produce and olive oil was something you bought in the chemist, not the supermarket! The emphasis was on style and appearance over taste and authenticity, which perfectly sums up the era.
Cooking and cookery books have defined our generation probably more than any other. We have come full circle. From a childhood of meagre portions, cooking seasonally and locally, through the convenient excess of the late 80's and 90's where everything was available and disposable, back round to cooking sensibly, slowly and seasonally again.
Everyone has their favourite cookbook, which usually has nothing to do with fashion or style, but everything to do with sensible, practical advice and delicious food.
My number one favourite book is The Readers Digest Complete Guide to Cookery. I was given it as a wedding present and after 17 years it never lets me down. Its not flashy or fashionable, just practical and informative. I also love Nigella Lawson's, How to be a Domestic Goddess and all things Delia (maybe it's my age). Amanda relies on her copy of Reader's Digest The Cookery Year from 1975 but also loves any of Nigel Slater's books for sound, no nonsense recipes and Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book which will see you through many a school cake sale.
Our bookshelves are heaving under the weight of the many cookbooks we have bought as the must haves of a certain time and the true test is whether we still use them. The more quirky fashionable ones are relegated to the back of the shelf as we probably used them once. But our favourites come out again and again, ready with advice, like trusted old friends. Just like life!!