I have recently inherited a collection of old recipe books from my mum.
A couple are 'fundraising' efforts, with recipes provided by the good people from a variety of parishes. In the case of "My Favourite Recipe" (circa. 1984), in aid of the Merseyside Association for Kidney Research, it includes Ken Dodd's 'Steak Diane', John Inman's Beef Wellington, and my personal favourite, Willy Russell's 'Midnight Madness' - which is essentially how to cook 2 slices of toast when you come home rather worse the wear for drink... reminds me of a story of a friend from law school who was once roundly berated by his wife, the long suffering Barbara (I never knew any more about her, and never met her) for frying ice cream wagon wheels one night, which he mistook for burgers. The mess was apparently something truly terrible to behold. Willy Russell's method for toast fills just over 2 pages of the book:
"Switch on the kitchen light; you may have just put the world to rights and drunk eight pints of bitter beer but, and I am quite confident of this, YOU CANNOT SEE IN THE DARK, the best chefs of the best kitchens of the world agree with me on this." etc
The Carrier book "Childrens Party Menus" is one I remember flicking through incessantly as childhood birthdays approached.
Mum, why did you NEVER make me the carousel cake? Or hard boiled eggs decorated like mice and rabbits?
Best of all, the pile of books included 2 notebooks from a Great Aunt. Handwritten recipes, cuttings, little comments - I love them.
I was blessed with some great ,Great Aunts, though none of them are still living. I've already mentioned the one who not only worked full time but went home to cook a 2 course lunch every day for her husband - another Random Recipe entry, in fact.
The Great Aunt to whom these notebooks belonged was a cabinet maker and worked with the renowned (and currently in vogue) Edward Barnsley. I am lucky enough to have a stool that she designed and had made in the later years of her life by one of her own apprentices. I believe all her great nieces and nephews have one, elegant and beautiful.
She herself was a fantastic character. All tweed skirts and sensible shoes. She smoked like a chimney (indeed it was the fags what done her in, in the end) and lived with her devoted 'companion' (no other attribution or recognition could be given in those days, even though their relationship was far more devoted than many marriages I have seen). As I recall, they shared their home with a grey African parrot. I always remember how interested she was in anything and everything I was doing; What was going on at school, what I was studying. I was off to France for a year - fantastic! what a great opportunity. She spent hours telling me about her own travels. In fact, she sadly died while I was in France and I missed her funeral, but somehow being in the Languedoc at the time, an area I know she loved, made it more bearable. My memories of her are fading but I have some clear images of her and her partner, their house and beautiful garden, which I know will stay with me.
Having her notebooks has brought many of those images and memories that I do retain back to the forefront of my mind. I can't date the notebooks accurately. One of them includes recipes attributed to "(Delia Smith TV)" in the exquisite handwriting you might expect. In fact all the recipes that have been written out by hand are attributed - names I recognise from my childhood - Jessie (my granny), Mrs Godfrey, Beth - and some I don't. There is an article about aubergine, cut out and kept from a newspaper from the day before my 6th birthday (I am sure the events were unrelated, but it puts things in context for me). I am particularly tickled by the comment accompanying a recipe for Roast Duck: "Very satisfactory." Those 2 words transport me right back in time - the sensibleness and practicality of them. No flowery nonsense. Just "Very satisfactory". I can hear her voice now.
But what of the random recipe? Well, this month the randomness is down to us: Dom's challenge at Belleau Kitchen is to choose a book our own way but to be sure to select a recipe randomly from it.
Alas, the roasted duck was not the random recipe. You'll understand why I had to choose one of these notebooks as my recipe book, tbough, so I very scientifically held them behind my back, swapped them over a couple of times and in my right hand the ringbound, falling apart Sherwood Notebook from Boots Stationery Department.
And the recipe? Well, the page that I opened included 4 recipes cut from newspapers. 2 veal recipes ('Veal Cutlets - Victoria', and stewed breast of veal), another one for a 'Standing Pie' (lots of lard) and this one. I couldn't resist. I love the idea that whenever this was written (imperial measurements, oven temp in Gas mark/farenheit only), people were thinking about how best to make sure they had a hot meal on the table - even if they wanted to go out and enjoy themselves in the meantime.
I copy it out directly because I am sure that any copyright has long since passed. If it hasn't and you recognise this as yours, please let me know, and I will offer full attribution.
Boeuf a la movie (for 2)
So called because you throw everything into a casserole, go to the cinema (and come back and eat it)
1lb stewing beef
small tin tomato soup
glass red wine
2 medium carrots, sliced
2 medium onions, sliced
1 medium potato, sliced
1/2 teaspoon of salt, and some screws of pepper
Put everything in a casserole and cover it closely. Put it into the middle of the oven with the heat at mark 1, 275F and leave it for 4 1/2 hours. When you return, serve it with tinned Swedish red cabbage (heated).
And that's it.
I defy anyone to say "Wow, what a beautiful looking dinner" - because frankly it wasn't:
The soup in the sauce made it alarmingly orange, and the fact that you don't brown the meat first meant that there was really quite a lot of fat floating around, but it was all cooked and quite tasty actually. It was completely hassle free - as all slow cooking is - and for a day when I was out at a training course and backwards and forwards on the school run and then delivering children to Rainbows etc, it was super-convenient. The only changes I made were to slightly up the vegetable quantities and I used a large tin of soup to stretch it to 4 of us. I also couldn't bring myself to serve it with tinned red cabbage - indeed I couldn't find any (although I didn't look too hard), but in keeping with the recipe, I did liberate some red cabbage, left over from Christmas, from the freezer.
I'm not sure it's the kind of thing I'd want to come back to from watching a movie, but I can certainly imagine Vera & Freda (you knew they'd have names like that) coming home - more likely from a concert at the Liverpool Philharmonic than the movies (although you never know), kicking off their brogues and sitting down, with their napkins on knees, to a big plateful of this...