The Foreword of English Cooking: A New Approach by Rupert Croft-Cooke (London, 1960), pp. 13-16:
I have written this book for readers of two kinds. First for those who like reading about food, talking about it, arguing about it, and above all eating it, but who are not themselves all-round cooks. Second, for experienced and knowledgeable cooks who do not want fussy and unnecessary details. It is not a handbook for beginners. Weights and measures are only given when it seemed to be necessary. Salt and pepper are taken for granted throughout, for I cannot believe anyone wants to read three times a page of “a pinch of salt” or to be told how many peppercorns should be used.
I have not attempted be comprehensive and am concerned only with food eaten at meals. This is not a confectioner’s or a Baker’s manual and has almost nothing in it about bread, biscuits, scones, cakes etc. though in many of these our national and regional talents are shewn. Nor, more to my regret, is it about preserving or making jams and pickles. It argues that there is an English way of cooking and that for many things it is the best way. (“English, by the way, is used to cover the United Kingdom; “British” if applied to cookery sounds rather heavy.) It is therefore concerned far more with producing English food at its best than with original discoveries or folklore. Many English dishes approach and some certainly achieve the exalted standards of haute cuisine. It is those which interest me rather than the merely quaint or agent.
While I hope that as a supplement to grander and more all-embracing cookery books it will have its practical uses, I do not see it altogether as a book to be propped up on the kitchen table or turned to in agonizing doubt about how long to give something already in the oven. I hope it will be put not on the reference shelf but among other books to read. Best of all I would like to think of it spitchcocked on the arm of an easy chair while its owner is busy with the soup.
I hope the reader will not mind being addressed as “you” in a rather brusque and familiar way, and will not be offended by my use of the imperative tents. “It should now be placed in the oven,” say the polite cookery books. “Stick it in the oven”, say I, in [fewer] words. I hope, too, that the reader will not be exasperated when I am not too elementary and explain something which he or she has known since graduating from washing-up. It is a fault on the right side, as cook used to say before she gave notice to us all forty years ago.
Although it this is essentially about English food and uses English names for the finished article there are a good many French terms for kitchen processes which have only poor English equivalents. One may, I suppose, call a bouquet garni a bundle of herbs but it would not be so expressive and we have no word at all for roux or mirepoix. I have rather apologetically explained these as they occur but nothing, I think, would have been gained by avoiding them. Braised sweetbreads are no less our own because a mirepoix is used in cooking them. Most of these French words have become international, anyway.
It is not in any ordinary sense a book of recipes and in this respect breaks with the precedents. The convention of the recipe, so many ounces of this and that, the procedure and the time necessary, has superseded the simple notes on “how to make so and so” in old MS books kept by ladies who exchanged recipes before many cookery books were published. It is a convention and entails a great deal of repetition and unnecessary detail and does not always lead to good cookery since it restrains the cook’s inventiveness, imagination and verve. As a form of discipline for students, like drill for recruits and classics for teenagers, it has its uses, but at times it seems to imply that the cook is a mentally retarded child and other times infers that her kitchen has all the resources of Leadenhall Market, Shearn’s, and Messrs Fortnum and Mason. Nearly forty years ago Sir John Squire* satirized the conventional recipes of both extremes quite unforgettably. Here are his versions.
“No. 1—Take a saucepan and fill it with water to the depth of two or three inches. Put it on stove and allow it to remain there until water is well on the boil. Take an egg (or two if one be deemed insufficient) and without breaking the shell place it in saucepan so that is just covered by water. Continue to keep water on boil for three and a half or, if a somewhat better consistency of substance be desired, four minutes. Time maybe gauged with watch, clock, or sand-glass specially prepared for purpose. (Messrs Spatchcock and Wilson, of High Holborn, make excellent articles of the sort), but comparative exactitude should, if possible, be secured. At end of specified time saucepan should be briskly removed, large spoon (or fork if no spoon handy) inserted into water and egg extracted. The egg immediately after emergence from water will be seen to be wet. This, however, need cause no alarm, as water will swiftly evaporate, leaving nice, clean, smooth dry surface. Place egg in small cup of suitable shape; serve hot and consume with salt and pepper to taste.”
“No. 2—A Cheap, Easy Dish for a Large Family. Take two pounds of best Astrakhan caviare and fourteen ounces of superfine pâté-de-foie-gras, and mix until a uniform paste has been secured. Take also the gizzards of eight ptarmigan and two pounds of fresh lemon pips and grind as small as possible. Boil the first mixture in butter for about twenty minutes and then add the second, stirring softly over a slow fire. When the desired softness has been obtained, drain off the water and stand aside for the steam to come off. Transfer to double saucepan and add the yolks of twelve eggs and a quarter to half a pound of guava jelly; stir and boil slowly for an hour and half. Add half-a-pint of water; allow the mixture to stand for two hours and then strain through a clean cloth. The solid remaining in the cloth may be thrown away; the liquid that comes through will, if allowed to stand for two hours, form a jelly. Place the jelly on a dish and serve with a garniture of bread-crumbs. If the utmost possible economy is necessary the bread-crumbs may be omitted.”
What I have tried to do with specific dishes in this book is to give all the information necessary to anyone who is at home in the kitchen, without being a bore about quarter ounces of mace. I do not believe that really good food comes from slavish obedience to stereotyped instructions. Most of the world’s great dishes were created, anyway, by people who could not read or write.
* Collected Parodies by J.C. Squire (Hodder and Stoughton).
* Collected Parodies by J.C. Squire (Hodder and Stoughton).