Why Read Indulgent Books?

EscoffierLast year I bought a book that I had no obvious need for. That book is A Guide to Modern Cookery by Auguste Escoffier. It’s not that the lack of need stems from my not cooking, though in recent months, I’ve cooked much less due to work commitments. The lack of ‘need’, if seen instead as a ‘want’, is a desire to leaf through something with neither purpose nor commitment.

I could do this with any number of contemporary cookbooks. But my Escoffier is a 1951 reprint of the original 1907 edition, whose translation into English from the original edition conjures up the height of French cuisine in 1903. There’s therefore very little I’d even attempt to cook from this guide. Many recipes are elaborate, expensive, and decorative in a way that befitted hotel menus for the well heeled. Few of them are what you’d be able to rustle up after a day at work. And being French, the book is also crammed with meat and dairy, of which I consume little.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Yet there’s so much of interest here. There’s the strange terminology such as ‘roundels’  and ‘tournedos’. There’s the over-abundance of eggs. English dishes, surprisingly, are treated kindly (though, even more surprisingly, the recipe for chipped potatoes is simply wrong wrong wrong). This can even be implicit. The Russet, a very English apple, for example, appears unannounced as such in several recipes as the best choice. And then there’s the language. ‘Besprinkle with grated parmesan’  says the recipe for Mousselines de Volaille a la Sicilienne. ‘Dish them in the form of a crown’ says the recipe for Tournedos Coligny.

The above are only some reasons to read the book. What makes it indulgent is that the only point I have in reading any of it is in enjoying this description of a world in whose place and time I don’t belong. As concrete as that world’s cookery is, this book both makes me aware of it while keeping it at a distance through the imagination.

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This entry was posted in Authors, Escoffier, Georges Auguste, Food, Non-Fiction and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Why Read Indulgent Books?

  1. Letizia says:

    What a great find and fascinating read. Although I wouldn’t make them, the different glazes in themselves are intriguing, for some reason.

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    • Jeff says:

      There is a recurrent fad for ornamental cookery with its glazes and ‘liquors’. I have an Australian Woman’s Weekly publication that’s fantastic – very decorative stuff aimed at dinner parties. Beautiful photography. Rather 1970s kitschy.

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      • Letizia says:

        The photography must be wonderful. I have some of my mother’s old recipes and some include variations of magazine recipes so they include the original. The photos (and the sheer quantity of eggs) are quite something.

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  2. Ste J says:

    Indulgent books are great – something outside the norm should be embraced and appreciated – at once guilty pleasures yet also conversation starters, they are versatile and make for some great blog posts.

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    • Jeff says:

      Might do a regular post on unusual books. My favourite secondhand bookshop used to have a huge multi-volume set of the complete works of Lenin. I noticed recently that it’s now gone. There must be some interesting stories behind purchases of the highly niche.

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  3. “Last year I bought a book that I had no obvious need for.” This is the story of my life.

    Thank you for visiting my blog–because it lead me back here to your wonderful blog!

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    • Jeff says:

      Flattery will get you everywhere! I salute your commitment to as well as your short and straightforward communications about reading. It only confirms that I need to do more shooting-from-the-hip postings.

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  4. Sarah says:

    I’ve always thought of reading as the perfect way to travel from the comfort of my sofa, and that goes for travelling in time as well as geography. Food writing in particular has exploded in my lifetime, with global cooking fusing with anything it can party with. While I’m totally happy I can get chipotles and non-dairy milk from any old supermarket these days, I also love the exploratory feel of writers like Elizabeth David whose books have not only a pioneering edge to them but a real sense of methods being passed on traditionally and authentically. After all, throwing the rule book out of the window only works when you know what the rules are!

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    • Jeff says:

      I shall have a look at some Elizabeth David. I like the older cookery books for their lack of celebrity and TV tie-ins. There is also that time travelling quality as you say. As for geography, I shall have to post something about that Australian Woman’s Weekly book I have on vegetarian dishes.

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