By Barry Hooper
Anyone who spends a bit of time in the kitchen at home will probably understand recipes. They may have learned them from Mom or have looked into the books in the kitchen about cooking At least they will understand what the recipe says, whether they stick to it or not.
Although all these culinary delights can be found, no doubt, on the internet, there is no greater pleasure, when you’re cooking, than coming across an old, grease and coffee-stained cook book that has obviously been used for ages. Generations of people have used these very books to learn how to cater for their families, their friends, their relatives and some have made a business from catering.
There are nowadays literally millions of recipes available but, perhaps because I am English, I still use “Mrs Beeton`s Household Management”, that splendidly voluminous all-time classic, the first real recipe book ever written, from time-to-time. Mrs Beeton not only wrote down her recipes but also explains how to manage a household. The book was a ‘must’ for new wives of the Victorian era. It tells you everything from how to sharpen knives to how to choose good servants, the best cuts of meat to how to carve it, she manages to make wonderful dishes out of ‘left-overs’ both for the family and for the servants.
The recipes in Mrs Beeton’s are still as good today as they were 150 years ago if you are catering for a lot of people. Such wonderful phrases as “take half a side of best beef”, or “add half-a-hundred oysters”, just ooze Victorian decadence whilst making your mouth water at the sheer quality and quantity of what was produced by the caterers in those days. Often these enormous dishes would be created by just one cook and a kitchen-maid or two, and there would be literally dozens of different ones to choose from at the bigger
If you are not a very good cook, or rarely risk what little talent you have in the kitchen on your guests, it is by far the best policy to follow the recipe exactly. If you concentrate and do precisely as you are told you will probably end up with a very reasonable and edible dish.
On the other hand if you cook a lot, or have whatever the kitchen equivelent is of a gardener’s ‘green fingers’, you will be able to use the recipe as a guide, as opposed to a rule book. This is where not only leading chefs but also more ordinary mortals can conjure-up inspirations to be enjoyed by both other ‘foodies’ and their guests. Just that little bit of extra oregano, tomato, wine, oil or whatever can make the difference between food which is edible and that which has a bit of panache which is the sign of something a rather special.
Whether you are catering for 2 or 100 people, you will be able to find a recipe somewhere which suites you and the occasion. You may use one from an internet site or one of your favourites from a book, maybe you are confident enough to make up your own recipes which you have written down somewhere, but maybe you might give good old “Mrs Beeton” a go one of these days. Her puddings are great, as many a waistline can evidence even to this day.
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