Friday, April 15, 2011

Penguin Great Food: a fatally collectable series

As if I didn't have enough cookbooks already along comes Penguin with 20 that I want to buy. They've reissued 20 classic food books from writers over the centuries from Gervase Markham in 1615 to Alice Waters in a new series called Great Food. And even though I've got books by Waters, Claudia Roden and Elizabeth David - also included in the series - I know I'm going to want them too.

That won't be cheap. At £6.99 a pop I shall fork out £139.80 over the coming months (well actually I won't thanks to the fact that I've managed to inveigle Penguin into sending me four to review and I shall probably weaken and end up buying others on Amazon). But the handbag-sized volumes are so neat (perfect for whipping out on the train/bus/tube) and the embossed and, in some instances, gilded covers so glorious that it would be a shame not to own them all. Wouldn't it?

Penguin knows all about collectability of course having created the magnificent King Penguin series which I wish I owned but would probably cost a fortune to acquire now. So I'm actually saving money by buying them when they're first published. Aren't I?

How else would I know how to make oyster ketchup (from Isabella Beeton's The Campaign for Domestic Happiness) or what to pay my Under Butler? Or how to Make a Medicine for a Disorder of the Bowels (Hannah Glasse)? The invaluable skill of making aqua composita (Gervase Markham's The Well Kept Kitchen - nice to see that in modern print) or to make Eliza Acton's salmon pudding (from The Elegant Economist)? That sounds nice, actually.

Interestingly historic cookbook authors seem to be all the rage. Quadrille has also brought out a version of Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery in its new series Classic Voices in Food but has taken a different approach by producing a 636 page much clunkier volume. How do I know it's clunky? Because I bought it, of course. Just to compare with the Penguin series, you understand . . .

* Incidentally Penguin's publicist Pen Vogler, who describes herself as "an enthusiastic but not very good cook" is cooking her way through the series on this tumblr blog. With admirable honesty about any recipe's failings


  1. I knew I shouldn't have clicked on this post, I knew it... it could prove to be an expensive mistake!

  2. I know, I know. *sigh* But if other people fall victim to temptation it makes me feel less bad about it ;-)

  3. Your willpower is more impressive than mine!