Monday, 1 February 2010

Retro Cookbooks and a week of Chilli

T.S. Eliot was wrong. February is the cruellest month.

With the day:night ratio still brutally weighted towards darkness and the good intentions of January ending in frustration or failure there is little to cheer come month number two.

What’s more, financially imposed restraint withers the bud of any frivolous relief: one must pay for midwinter exuberance at some point and that is usually about 30 days into the year. There shall be no steaks or fine wines in February.

But it presents the enthusiastic cook with a challenge. With budgets slashed more brutally than an American teenager in a bad horror movie, the cogs of invention begin to splutter and whirr into gear in an attempt to answer the age-old question: how does one eat well – cheaply?

I found the answer in the 1980s.

When we moved in together, the GF and I inevitably meshed media collections. This explains why Destiny’s Child now cosy up to The Dears and how Badly Drawn Boy ended up in such close proximity to Band of Horses (the alphabetisation is all me, sadly).

The cookbook collection was also enriched by this collision. In addition to the Nigels and Nigellas were some fabulous items from the mid 1980s which 20-some years on have managed to recapture their appeal, if only for kitsch value.

The Austrialian Women’s Weekly Dinner Party Cookbook No.2, its cover adorned with a domed fruit jelly, whipped cream piped around the perimeter, is a particular favourite. How to Make Good Curries is another I adore, chiefly because of the modest ambitions of its title.

The good folks at the Aussie Women’s Weekly are also responsible for The Barbecue Cookbook including – I kid you not – a section on a barbecued wedding breakfast.

But our favourite discovery, and one that caused much mirth when we were going through our new collection is a small undated pamphlet issued by the British Sausage Bureau entitled A Month of Sausages.

I think that warrants some thought.

Firstly, it is both commendable and highly amusing that such an organisation existed given that it sounds like something dreamt up by Edmund Blackadder or the writers of The Thick Of It. An entire (government funded) organisation dedicated solely to the advancement of the sausage. Magnificent.

But what’s more surprising and sadly archaic is the notion that a tentacle of the government would recommend eating sausages – albeit in various guises – every day. For a month.

In an era of five-a-day, low-sodium, low-fat, no-butter, no booze, no fags, no eggs, no cream, no bacon – the very idea that a publicly funded body could recommend eating processed pork for thirty straight days like some sort of inverse Lent is anathema to modern health proclamations.

Towards the end of the booklet they seem to be getting a little short on ideas (sausage kebabs – a sausage on a stick, Welsh Sausage Supper – sausages fried with leeks) but one has to admire the sentiment even if the execution is a little suspect.

However, despite my adoration of pork, I fear that a month of sausages is a challenge beyond even my capabilities but I was tickled by the notion and it chimed with the rather timely need for thrift.

For the next week we shall be eating chilli con carne. But we won’t be eating the same meal twice. The chilli shall serve as inspiration and base but the format shall vary.

At the moment it is bubbling away slowly in the oven and has been for four hours. The total cost of the ingredients was under a fiver and I’m as yet unsure where to go beyond chilli with rice and enchiladas but we’ll get there.

It might not be a month of sausages but a week of chilli is a darn good way to start a frugal February.

Results next Monday but for more regular updates tune into my Twitter feed right here


matt said...

WOW, that is some seriously bad food photography! I have a couple of Delia books from that era, and wish, really wish they were sans photos.

I love the idea of a British Sausage Bureau.. I like to picture them somewhat like the Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition..

Love your writing style BTW.

W said...

I don't mean to intrude, but there is a bit of Texas I'd like to offer up as an idea for chili week, if you're in need of any. The "Frito pie"..

Alicia Foodycat said...

I will NOT hear a word against the Australian Women's Weekly cookbooks. Especially since you don't have the Dessert cookbook there, which is really funny. I have the Dinner Party v1 & 3, and I still cook a couple of dishes from v1.

Hollow Legs said...

I've been meaning to make cornbread to accompany chilli for ages.

...or you could stuff it in a potsticker dumpling?

Just Cook It said...

Matt - Brilliantly bad isn't it? Highly stylised, no natural light - odd by modern standards. Thanks for the kind words

Whitney - Intrude away, I'm always glad for company. Looks like something that may grace the table on Friday night!

Foodycat - They are incredibly popular books. I reckon we sold at least one a day when I worked in a cookshop. It was gentle, loving mockery, I assure you.

Lizzie - Love it. Don't be surprised if you see that on here come next week...

lisaiscooking said...

A Month of Sausages looks like a delight! I love old cookbooks and a have a few 'antiques' on my shelf.

Whitney had a great suggestion with frito pie!

Unknown said...

I too have the wonderful How to Make Good Curries as well as most of the Australian Womens weekly books.If you think they're bad you should see some of my 70's collection.....

Helen said...

If you two ever get married, you MUST have that BBQ'd sausage wedding breakfast. It would be original, that's for sure...

Hopie said...

Oh man I'm with you on February (see my post for today), but this post brightened up my day with the idea of gov't-recommended sausages everyday for a month. That is priceless. I've been looking to make chili soon as well. Warming. Cheap. And even better left over. Goodness, what's not to love? So, do we get to hear more about your chili experiments?

Just Cook It said...

Lisa - It's hilarious. I think they were getting very desperate by the end because some of the recipes are bordering on the insane.

Cottage Garden Farmer - It's a great book, that one. And, yes, you're right - take it back another ten years and things get even funnier

Helen - I think a rapid divorce/anulment may follow if that happened. Original, yes. Sensible? No. Most definitely not.

Hopie - Agree on all fronts.

Nina said...

If anyone has read Jasper Fforde- whch everyone should- Toast Marketing Board anyone?