My most treasured books lie hidden. They’re shrinking violets in my kitchen, spines frayed and indecipherable, found among modern volumes from celebrity kitchens and heavyweight classics from renowned masters. My favourite cookery books are often rediscovered by accident and, as I ease them from the shelves, they transport me to half-forgotten times and places in my past.
My Mother’s Be-Ro book, a slim booklet produced by the flour manufacturer, still falls open at the pages consulted by her, and sticky fingerprints offer clues to the ingredients of coconut macaroons and jam tarts. It conjures up memories of my scratchy bottle-green school jumper and toasting bread with my brother in front of a smoky coal fire, Blue Peter on the television.
The Farmer’s Wife book evokes my teenage years. The spicy aroma of the sticky gingerbread contained within gives way to Aqua Manda, the heady fragrance that I applied liberally on Saturday nights.
The Hamlyn All Colour Cook Book heralds early married life and, with its curried eggs and tuna bake, a new and sophisticated period along my culinary journey. As I browse the faded pages, it’s our trendy brown and orange kitchen and primrose bathroom suite (how I longed for avocado) that elbow their way through the mists of time. Fast forward ten years and the Food Aid book from which I make mushroom pâté each Christmas reminds me of the Live Aid concert that inspired its publication.
There are more, each with their own special memories, but it is a small blue book bulging with handwritten notes that means the most. These are the family recipes handed down to me over the years. One glance at the looped script and I am back in the kitchen of my childhood. It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon and my mother and aunts are chatting as they assemble bridge rolls stuffed with tinned salmon, and arrange their specialities – fruit scones, cream meringues and chocolate eclairs – on doilies. I can smell their soap and hear their gentle scolding as my cousins and I play underfoot.
I doubt I’ll be able to resist the new, glossy cookery tomes that will appear this Christmas but, as they join the rest of my collection, I know that my memories will be hiding in their midst.
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