Sunday, 9 February 2014

What a difference 20 years makes.... or does it?

When it comes to Step by Step Cookery I actually have two books to choose from if I want to find a recipe. The orange book, the one that's been in my life since I was small, is my Mum's, and the garish green and yellow one? That's mine. 

The year is 2011 and I am moving into my room at Lee House on the Roehampton campus with boxes of new bedding, posters to adorn my walls and...a copy of Marguerite Patten's Step by Step Cookery to guide me through my new culinary freedom. My Mum had bought it for me in a jumble sale in the weeks prior to me leaving - unable to part with her much loved copy but unwilling to send me on my way without some way to cook "Hasty Goulash" (pg 107) and "Chuck wagon stew". (pg 67)

As it happens I was quite happy with chicken dippers and oven chips throughout most of my first (and second...) years so the book stood largely discarded first on a book shelf and then on a window sill. That's where the lovely two tone effect on the cover comes from - sorry Marguerite, I promise I take better care of your words nowadays.

The orange copy of the book was published in 1963, but the copy I own wasn't printed (in Czechoslovakia - which certainly ages it) until 1983. In those 20 years you'd have thought the recipes would have moved on substantially - but they haven't. Newfangled cookery methods and convenience foods have largely passed Marguerite Patten by and when you look through the newer copy of the book the recipes are the same.

A new layout can't disguise that when it comes to making 'Compote of fruit' not much has changed in 2 decades. The newer copy lets you know how many servings the recipe makes which is a welcome addition for anyone attempting to cook for the whole family. Another difference I can see is the newer edition of the book tying things together more seamlessly. The line 'Try mixing fruits together and cooking them in the oven as the recipe below." invites readers to move on to making 'Stewed apricots and cherries' in a much more convincing way than the original copy does by making it an entirely new recipe.

The only glaringly different thing about the two editions is the pictures. A few pieces of clementine in a serving bowl next to some flowers doesn't really correlate with the recipes alongside it as well as the 'Rhubarb fool' in the 1983 edition with its lady fingers and dollops of cream. However the 1963 picture fits far better with Marguerite Patten's proclamation that fresh fruit "makes a perfect dessert with no effort involved at all". I don't know about you, but beating rhubarb with a wooden spoon certainly sounds like effort to me!

My Mum's copy came from a similar place as mine - she bought hers at a jumble sale before moving to University - and the orange book has history seeping through its pages. (And not just because of all the bits of cake mixture I managed to drop on it last week!) There is some confusion as to where my Nan's original copy of the book is, but she assures me it was the same orange hardback copy.

The inside front cover has a name, Stephanie B. Williams, as well as this date and place on the inside. I find things like this fascinating in second hand books. Who was Stephanie? How did the book make its way from Oxford in 1969 to my Mum's hands in 80's Cardiff? Did she like to cook Hasty Goulash and Chuck wagon stew? And most importantly...

Why was she willing to give up on Marguerite's guidance?

I'll leave you with another of her Secrets of Success, this time in relation to the Rhubarb Fool...

The easiest way to prepare this is to emulsify the fruit puree and custard together in a liquidiser goblet.

(Don't worry - I don't have a clue what a liquidiser goblet is either!)


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