But that’s me. I choose restaurants by their ambiance, fabric by its feel and cookbooks by their pictures. I simply would never buy a recipe book without images. Food is meant to be a visual feast so picture-less cookbooks make no sense to me.
Maybe it was those years in high school cookery classes, labouring over the picture-less Commonsense Cookbook, under the tutelage of two very stern and demanding older women who taught me the basics well but made me long for something more adventurous.
Once I began work I bought my very first cookbook, a long narrow, cream coloured edition the name of which I’ve long forgotten. As well as the recipes it had fine pen sketches of heritage buildings around Sydney. I thought it was the height of elegance and sophistication. It had none of the recipes I’d grown up with, junket, lemon sago and lambs fry and bacon. It had recipes with ingredients I’d never heard of but couldn’t wait to try.
I doubt my parents appreciate my new culinary endeavours, such a far cry from lamb cutlets and shepherd’s pie, but they didn’t say so. Maybe my mother was just glad to be out of the kitchen, cooking was a real chore for her, she much preferred the sewing room.
From French cooking to The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire. What an adventure!
Sachertorte ... I made that with great enthusiasm many times and then in Vienna one summer I got to enjoy the real thing at the Hotel Sacher Wien. It was beyond amazing! It was created by a 16-year old apprentice pastry chef in 1832 for Prince Clemens Lothar Metternich. It became the most famous chocolate cake in Vienna. The apprentice became famous and it was his son who established the Hotel where I sat on that balmy summer evening and savoured dessert heaven.
Dobos Torte ... a creation consisting of seven cake layers, each cooked separately, joined together with chocolate cream and topped with a thin layer of toffee cut in wedges and arranged like the 'Opera House sails' with swirls of the chocolate cream supporting each 'sail'.
Apfelstrudelfullung ... time consuming but oh so yummy and Spanishe Windtorte, a baroque triumph in conception, design and execution … a meringue box with decorative outer case and lid, filled with strawberries, toasted hazelnuts, crushed macaroons and chocolate folded through sweetened cream. It took two days to make but it looked truly spectacular and tasted quite otherworldly. It became my favourite thing to make because it looked so beautiful with its crystallised violets adding the final touch.
My mother’s handwritten recipe book is there too with her famous date loaf, no-cook afternoon tea fudge and London bun recipes, each page splattered with a generous sprinkle of flour and a good dash of dried butter. It reminds me that even though cooking was a chore for her she fed us with love and maybe more love than those for whom cooking is easy and pleasurable.
Food is so fundamental to our very existence and somehow sharing a meal opens a door to sharing ourselves. I love that. I love that a simple sandwich, shared with love, can be as special as the most elegant French quiescence when it’s shared in relationship.
In many ways my recipe file is a story of my life. It resonates with the sounds of laughter and tears shared over long lunches, snatched moments for coffee and candlelight dinners. It’s overflowing with decades of friendships, recipes swapped, cooking tips passed on, celebrations and commiserations. It holds the best that life can offer, beyond money and possessions, the richest of life’s blessings, friendship, memories and love shared around a table.