It belatedly occurs to me that I should have called this section of my summer TBR 20 Cooks of Summer. There’s always next year. Anyway, the last book on my 20 Books of Summer TBR is The Constance Spry Cookery Book, which I’ve had for years and never cooked anything from. Flicking through it, it’s obvious why I haven’t. The introduction to my edition refers to it as a “delightful period piece”, and it very much fits that description. One of the myriad books that came out in the 1950s to help middle-class women who could no longer rely on servants to do everything, it’s a strange mix of things that absolutely everyone knows now (the section on “breakfast” explains, carefully, that you shouldn’t make tea until the breakfast is nearly finished, otherwise it will be stewed), and things that almost no-one needs to know now (what should you cook when your husband is hosting a shooting party?). There’s advice on how to cook so that your father-in-law won’t think you’re lazy or a spendthrift (casually mention that your coffee comes from Lyle’s). “Harvey’s sauce”, which is in almost every recipe, is no longer made by the company that sold it, though careful research suggests that I could achieve the same results by mixing anchovies with Tobasco and leaving them in a cupboard for several weeks.
Despite the period piece nature of the book, there are actually things in here that I would really like to make. They mostly require a lot more preparation and legwork than they probably did in 1956. I’ve never cooked rabbit, for instance, but I couldn’t pop to my local butcher and pick one up without calling at least a few days in advance. Of course, I’ve left this book to the absolute end of the 20 Books of Summer period and can do no prep at all, so I can’t embark on a complicated cooking project. Also, this afternoon I will be Eating Out to Help Out (you know, because I’m a patriot), so I can’t exactly plan on a big dinner, because I will be full of pie, mash, and beer. I settled on one of the smaller breakfast options.
The “breakfast” section of this book is perhaps one of the strangest to modern eyes. It contains a lot of advice about the fact that it is still possible to make your husband/houseguests breakfast in bed, even if you don’t have a kitchenmaid like Mother did. In fact, it keeps them entertained and out of the way, so that you can get on with your morning chores! Also, one and a half pages are entirely given over for advice on coffee-making, which seems to have been an advanced and exotic art at the time. The general 50s-ish tone of the chapter doesn’t detract from the fact that there are a lot of things in here that sound good. Unlike Elizabeth David, these authors used recognisable measurements of ingredients (with metric added in my edition) and laid their recipes out a bit more thoughtfully.
I love a hearty breakfast, and frankly I think I would have done well in a Victorian country house when there were kidneys, eggs three ways, cold grouse, and kedgeree as my options every day (especially if I was then free to go tramping across the countryside and burning off all the excess energy). However, because this is not the Victorian era, I settled on drop scones instead. Somehow, I don’t think I’ve ever made these, and I’ve enjoyed them when I’ve eaten them elsewhere. Spry’s recipe is quick and easy. And, for once, does not contain Harvey’s sauce.
I’m happy with how the scones turned out, though they were a little greasy. Since the recipe assumes they will be cooked in sausage or bacon fat, I used lard to grease the pan beforehand, but I think I would use oil next time. The paprika was nice, and I didn’t have any parsley to hand but I think it would be worth hunting out if I was going to make these in future. The recipe makes a huge number of scones, which didn’t seem like they would keep well, so I would cut the quantities if I made them again.
I’ll be hanging onto this book – partly so that I can feel thankful that I am not a 1950s housewife, but also because I do quite fancy trying my hand at some of the game recipes over the winter months. There are also a lot of jam recipes – I’ve made chutney before but never jam, and I’m planning to have a go at these in autumn. This is pretty much the opposite of the Nigella cookbook I wrote about a couple of days ago. Nothing here is going to become a staple, but there are a lot of fun projects for me to try. And that’s book 20 of my 20 books of summer – coming in just under the wire!