I have a ‘new’ favourite book. But it’s not new at all. It’s from 1946 and I love everything about it.
Firstly there’s the title – ‘How to Cook Well’. No fast, furious, low-fuss cookery mania here. No boutique, chef hat, posh nosh in sight. No sir-ee. From the out-set, the author, Ann Roe Robbins, is keeping her expectations low, which suits me fine.
As it happens, we actually have a bit in common. In her preface, Ann Roe Robbins admits she never cooked until she was married. Unless you count cakes, I too was in the same boat. In between leaving home and getting married (perhaps a little longer if I’m honest) my diet consisted largely of peanut butter and honey on toast. Things improved somewhat after the nuptials but there was always a jar of peanut butter on standby in the fridge.
Around this time, I was given one good, contemporary cookbook. It covered some of the basics until I eventually inherited Ann Roe Robbins’ answer to all things culinary. It’s just what I needed. It seems she wasn’t interested in simply compiling a book of recipes. She wanted to explain why things were done the way they were done. She believed in instructions over instinct and measuring over guess-work. She wanted to share her money saving techniques and make sure her readers were eating healthy, flavoursome food.
That meant rules – always have a hot dish with every meal even in the summer; include flavour, colour and texture to ensure every meal is appetising; avoid dishes that require last minute attention, and; don’t be scared of a long list of ingredients.
Not every rule rings true today, but her enthusiasm and passion for food shines through. Ann Roe Robbins and her sky blue cookbook with its linen cover, gold embellishments and understated title would give any of today’s chefs a run for their money.