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A word from Elizabeth David

"It is not really an exaggeration to say that peace and happiness begin, geographically, where garlic is used in cooking, " Marcel Boulestin

Not Elizabeth David's own words but she uses them to begin her introduction to her first book A Book of Mediterranean Food.

It's been a very busy day and I have run out of time to do the article I was planning - maybe another time. So this is one of those quickie "A word from ..." articles. This time it's the turn of Elizabeth David and the words I have chosen are from her very first book A Book of Mediterranean Food.

I think my first 'real' cookbook was by Elizabeth David - French Provincial Cooking was the one I chose because I wanted to reproduce some of the delicious food I had tasted in France. Her recipes are mostly simple - even sometimes somewhat vague - but they are pretty never fail. I am also much amused by her schoolmarmy tone which often shines through. She's a bit of a food snob of the type who deplores supermarkets and shortcuts. Authentic and fresh is the thing.

Anyway - as this is just a 'word from ...' article, here are the words and the cover of the book. The words are taken from the the Introduction and the three different Prefaces to the three different editions of this book. It was originally written in 1950. Mine is the second revised edition of 1965. No pictures - just line drawings at the front of each chapter. I'll let the words speak for themselves.

"This book first appeared in 1950, when almost every essential ingredient of good cooking was either rationed or unobtainable. To produce the simplest meal consisting of even two or three genuine dishes required the utmost ingenuity and devotion. But even if people could not very often make the dishes here described, it was stimulating to think about them, to escape from the deadly boredom of queuing and the frustration of buying the weekly rations, to read about real food cooked with wine and olive oil, eggs and butter and cream, and dishes richly flavoured with onions, garlic, herbs and brightly coloured southern vegetables."

"In the lands bordering the Mediterranean, as indeed almost everywhere else, the cooking is constantly evolving; traditional dishes are being adapted to modern techniques and to new ingredients, or to old ones which, as a result of modern methods of cultivation, transport, preservation, and storage, have undergone material modifications or even a basic change."

I hope the two quotes show how times have changed and also how cooking is an evolutionary thing. I remember rationing, though not terribly clearly. In the preface to the second edition, (1955) she comments on how most ingredients were now available - though tellingly this was only in trendy Soho in London. As for the change in the preparation of these classic dishes - this is still continuing today. There is probably no such thing as a classic original recipe. All of those great traditional dishes - Robert Carrier's great dishes of the world - are infinitely variable.

Elizabeth David has a lot to say about a whole lot of food subjects, so I shall probably use her again in an A Word from ... article.

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