How many cook books is enough?
The irresistible allure of second hand cookbooks, reinventing old menus and a recipe for chard gratin.
It won’t be a surprise to you that I own a lot of cookbooks. I don’t know how many thousands of them; I’m not good with numbers. When we lived in London, I used to thin them out a couple of times a year and sell the thinnings for charity. And yet still they come, creeping onto shelves and stairs, in heaps on tables, by sofas and chairs, crowding out on nights stands and the little bookcase by the bath. I realise I make this sound that they march in on their own, with no help from me. But we know the truth, don’t we?
It reminded me of the sort of let’s-build-a-better-world-one-chickpea-at-a-time places I used to go to with my mum in 1970s Durham and Newcastle.
A few weeks ago, we were going to the market in Pézenas and we passed a place that had intrigued me from the road each time we drove into the town. Its Re’n’Art sign painted on the wall always pulled my eye. We weren’t in a hurry. We’re seldom in a hurry these days. So we turned right into the carpark. In front of us, the low building – a former wine warehouse, I found out – and a scattering of tables and chairs. Inside, second-hand clothes, books, pieces of furniture. It describes itself as a ‘ressourcerie’, a community project and social enterprise largely staffed by volunteers. They repurpose furniture from the tip (I love the French word for this, le relooking), teach sewing and other craft classes, hold musical evenings, and run a great little café with good coffee and simple food. Of course, there are vegetarian options. It reminded me of the sort of let’s-build-a-better-world-one-chickpea-at-a-time places I used to go to with my mum in 1970s Durham and Newcastle.
On one of the shelves, I found this cookbook, Menus du Jour. It has a three-course menu for every day of the year, entrée, plat, dessert, along with a wine selection and – helpfully – the saint’s day. It was published in the 1990s, but it feels older than that to me. It contains lots of traditional recipes, but some indications of foods newly arrived on the supermarket shelves back then, so lapin à la moutarde and gigot d’agneau (rabbit in mustard sauce and leg of lamb) sit alongside lamb koftes and poulet au curry (curried chicken, essentially a trad French chicken casserole + two teaspoons of an unspecified curry powder). Some of the menus are odd – chicken, rabbit, veal and lamb brains in aspic, followed by fish burgers and lemon sabayon, anyone? But like a road accident, I can’t stop looking.
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