Angela Clutton reflects on the latest gathering of the Cookbook Club which, this month, focused on Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat
Hands up if you would like to spend an afternoon with Nigella Lawson in your kitchen. Quite a few of you, yes? Me too. And the happy news is, with a copy of her How To Eat, we can all feel like we’re doing just that.
How To Eat is almost 500 pages of such pure Nigella-ness that as you read I think it is impossible not feel Nigella there with you. And reading it is almost as much the point with this book as cooking from it is. Certainly the Cookbook Club members who gathered in Borough Market’s Cookhouse to kickstart our 2017 events felt that to be the case.
The other thing about the style of the book which particularly piqued the Cookbook Clubbers’ interest was the way it is structured. Not by types of dish or by course, but by what is happening in your life. So there are sections on ‘Cooking in Advance’, ‘Weekend Lunch’, and ‘Feeding Babies and Small Children’, among others. Menus are put together for ease. Throughout, there is a sense that the cook shouldn’t be bound by rules but by what suits him or her.
The dishes at the Cookbook Club were drawn from all different sections of the book. One of the favourites was beef braised in beer, which interestingly is in the ‘low fat’ section. It is legitimately there but there was a feeling among the members that in the almost 20 years since How To Eat was written, our perceptions of low fat cooking have shifted. Few modern ‘healthy eating’ books would be brave enough to include that dish. (I should say I’m right behind Nigella in having it where she did.)
Smash hit of a dish
Crab and saffron tart was another smash hit of a dish but one which arrived at the Cookbook Club after a few travails. Its cook told us about the rather unwieldy time that had been had with the tart’s pastry. The tart when it turned out had a rather more rustic feel than intended, but it tasted gorgeous. That’s all that mattered to us as we tucked in, and we were all pretty sure Nigella herself would have felt the same.
The crab tart story is an extreme example of how wonderfully uncompetitive the Cookbook Club events always are. It is never about who has done the best of anything. It is about sharing with the others how it went and how you/we—feel—about the cookbook. I can’t think of too many other instances where there is an immediate camaraderie and support, but the Cookbook Club always manages it.
Another member baked the stem-ginger gingerbread. As I sliced into I think I said something about being able to “feel its flavour”. Looking back, that was a smidge pretentious, but also true. Its cook told us she had got up in the middle of the night to protect the cake from her sons retuning home. Thank goodness she did. (And she did get to take some home at the end for her boys too.)
I know at least one other Cookbook Club member who has been prompted to make that gingerbread since. That is another thing which is a consistent joy—how many people leave wanting to cook more, and then actually doing it. I hear such great stories of members cooking different dishes from their usual repertoire, pushing themselves, and doing so with more confidence.
If that is the impact of the Cookbook Club and the cookbooks then really nothing could be better.
11th March: Moro: The Cookbook by Samantha Clark & Samuel Clark
23rd May: The A to Z of Eating by Felicity Cloake
27th June: Kitchen Diaries: Volumes I to III by Nigel Slater