Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cooking Through My Years - Intro

The passing away of revered food writer, Katie Stewart, last week, had me thinking back to some of the food writers that were my inspiration and guide as I learnt to cook. In the coming weeks and months I am going to revisit recipes from many of them as I look back through my culinary past and recreate some of the dishes that were either of their moment or particularly notable to me for the success or failure I had with them.

I was born in 1959 and both my parents had been brought up on very traditional plain food.  My mother's family were farmers in Norfolk and my father came from Tyneside; all 'very meat and two veg'. As far as I can remember, at the time I I started learning to cook there were just three cookbooks in my mother's collection. The one I remember using most was a Good Housekeeping Compendium. The pictures inside this book show ladies sensibly dressed in housecoats and working in quite spartan kitchens.  I was perhaps lucky to have a mother to whom cooking was very much a household chore, as it meant there was little competition for the kitchen and no strong traditions that dictated how anything was cooked.  I was always encouraged and given rather free reign; and only quietly cursed for the amount of mess I made in the process.

No surprise to anyone at home that the main things I wanted to make were sweets and cakes.

Chicken was still rather expensive and had not yet been bred into the fat beasts we see today.

But by the time I found myself at senior school and attending domestic science classes things had rather changed in the kitchen.

I too was a proud owner of one of those huge puff sleeved blouses and I cannot think of anything less practical to cook in, it was hard enough not getting those drooping sleeves in your gravy as you ate.

After school I went on a catering course and then worked as a cook for three years before realising I had neither the stamina nor the artistry to be a 'proper' chef. I decided to go back to college, but food has remained my life's preoccupation.

I now have over 800 cookery books along with a few boxes of magazines and paper clippings.  That is what happens when you have a lifelong collecting habit and have been around over 50 years.

For each post in this series I am going to choose a different book from my collection based on its year of publication and start with 1959. As far as possible I will try to work with the year the book was first published.

The Housekeeping Compendium was published before I was born but as a mark of the respect for the book that sent me on my culinary journey it will be the one I kick off with and the recipe I am doing is Chelsea Buns, a lifelong favourite sticky bun.

The dough is a basic lightly enriched bread dough. Once proved it is rolled into a rectangle and then the filling is scattered over before rolling up 'swiss roll style'. You cut slices through the roll as thick as you want, prove and bake. I added a half teaspoon of mixed spice to the sultana and sugar filling, although it wasn't in my recipe and I also daubed a bit of icing on the cooked buns.

A very similar recipe for Chelsea Buns can be found here on the bbc food website. If you have a bread machine you can prepare the dough with very little work at all.

The next post in this series will be a recipe from 'Sweets That Have Tempted Me' by Esme Gray Booker, 1959.



  1. This is a lovely idea. I love a Chelsea bun. There weren't any cookery books around when I was little - although I remember collecting tokens from bags of flour when I was about 9 to send off for one so that I could make more cakes. Later, one of the first books I bought was a Good Housekeeping collection. I wish that I still had those first books and that I'd managed to accumulate 800 books - my life's been a bit too chaotic for that. I'm looking forward to your selection of "historic" books. (I didn't have one of those puff sleeved blouses, although I do admit to cheesecloth, tie-dye and flares).

  2. Pretty please could you post the Good Housekeeping Compendium's version of 'Melting Moments'? I used to make them frequently as a child as they were easy and quick, but I can't remember the recipe other than it included rolled oats and cocoa powder!

    1. Of course Alp here you go-
      The Chocolate Melting Moments recipe:
      2oz margarine, 2oz sugar, 1 egg, 0.5 oz cocoa, 3.5 oz self raising flour, rolled oats

      Cream fat and sugar and beat in egg. Fold in cocoa and flour. Damp hands, roll mixture balls and toss in oats. Put on greased tray, flatten slightly and bake in moderate oven (375F) 15-20 minutes.

    2. :-) Thank you so much!