A Baker’s Dozen of British Cookbooks for the Christmas Season – Book #6

With Katie Stewart’s book, you begin to see a swing toward the time-saving, home-economist tone so prominent in much food writing that emerged in the latter part of the 20th century, aimed at housewives. I’ll be honest here, and you can probably tell before you even read this: Ms. Stewart’s book doesn’t really propel me into the kitchen as do some of the others in this series, but nevertheless her work is part of the overall history of British cooking. And I’ll confess, I could save a little time now and then, so Ms. Stewart’s chapters with make-ahead dishes come in handy! In particular, Chapter 14 – Cooking for Christmas – is ravishing.

Here’s book #6:

1972

6.  The Times Cookery Book, by Katie Stewart (1972): I snagged my copy of this book for about $4.00 on a very lucky day, as the word on the street was that the book is rare and commands the whopping price of £70 via certain online dealers. My copy, alas, is printed on acid-rich paper and showing signs of disintegration around the edges of all the pages, as happens with such paper.

Ms. Stewart, who died in 2013 at age 78, wrote a cookery column for The Times, followed by a number of years writing for The Guardian. Her no-nonsense The Times Cookery Book enjoyed great success, due in part to her attention to detail, her experience with the rigidness of French cuisine through a cookery course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and a spell spent in White Plains, New York working for Nestlé. In addition to The Times Cookery Book, Ms. Stewart wrote a number of other cookery books, including The Sociable CookThe Pooh Cook Book – very popular and much loved, as well as The Joy of Eating: A Cook’s Tour of History, Illustrated, With a Cook’s Section of the Great Recipes of Every Era (1977), which is on the way to my mailbox as I write this.

Basically a cousin to The Joy of CookingThe Times Cookery Book propped up many neophyte cooks over the years and a number of old hands in the kitchen, too. The book covers everything from soups to desserts, plus picnics, casseroles, cold table foods, and cooking for the freezer. Certainly, she recognizes the cook’s time constraints; for each recipe, she indicates just how much time it will take to complete. The book lacks the chatty head-notes so prominent in some of the earlier British cookbooks, but it does include many of the basic dishes popular at the time, the detail and focus on technique vitally important for cooks who might not have had the opportunity to learn cooking any other way other than through the tutelage of cookbooks. The index points to five dishes with “curry” in the recipe title and, except for Beef Curry and an all-purpose curry sauce, those dishes tend to be earmarked for luncheon or tea, e.g., Cold Curried Prawns and Cold Curried Chicken. Note that many recipes state “Made in Advance,” particularly in the “Cold” chapters.

For a snapshot of culinary trends in Britain, Ms. Stewart’s work is portentous. Her contemporaries, Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David, outshone her on many levels. But nevertheless The Times Cookery Book filled a void at a time when women entered the workforce in droves and precision was required, more so than was culinary history and geography lessons.  The fact that the book can be hard to come by, and usually looks as if your dog got to it first, testifies to its staying power.

Ms. Stewart’s successor seems to be Delia Smith, a thoroughly modern personage with an immense following. But I wonder if Delia’s books will stand the test of time in the same way that Ms. Stewart’s has?

Check out all of the books in this series:

1. Florence White’s Good Things in England

2. Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England

3. Adrian Bailey’s The Cooking of the British Isles

4. Elizabeth David’s Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen

5. Jane Grigson’s Good Things

6. Katie Stewart’s The Times Cookery Book

7. Jane Grigson’s English Food

8. Laura Mason’s The National Trust Farmhouse Cookbook

9. Sarah Edington’s The National Trust Complete Traditional Recipe Book

10. Brian Yarvin’s The Ploughman’s Lunch and the Miser’s Feast

11. Mary-Anne Boermans’s Great British Bakes: Forgotten Treasures for Modern Bakers 

12. Heston Blumenthal’s Historic Heston

13. Mary Gwynn’s The WI Cookbook

Millers cabin Smithfield crop

 

© 2015 C. Bertelsen

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