Tuesday, 21 March 2017

what's cooking?

I am slipping miserably in the fruit and vegetable portion stakes.  Last night's black-eyed beans with mushrooms had only four kinds of vegetable, the beans, the mushrooms, onion, and tomato, plus some garlic and coriander, and tonight's leeks and ham with pasta will have only one, the leeks. Worse still, I have realised that I am guilty of cultural misrepresentation in my cooking habits. Thai red curry with noodles on Saturday, curried beans and mushrooms last night, and Moroccan chicken with honey planned for Wednesday, when I am not Thai or Indian or Moroccan, and have never even visited any of those countries.  What business have I to be cooking versions of their food which are almost certainly not what they would be like at home, and what business have the cookery book authors to write about it?

At least Madhur Jaffrey is Indian, giving her some claim to write recipes for Lobhia aur khumbi without it counting as an act of micro-aggression, but Claudia Roden is Egyptian, not Moroccan, and regarding that as practically the same thing because they both come from North Africa surely counts as a crass act of cultural imperialism, even though she has done lots of research.  And Diana Henry of the red curry is Irish.  And her original version in the book is made with left over roast chicken, which I don't suppose they have in Thailand.

If I am to avoid the sin of cultural misrepresentation in future then I'm afraid most of my cookery library will be bound for the charity shop, which is rather a shame as I was enjoying cooking from The Taste of Belgium, The Two Greedy Italians, Floyd on France, and my cherished copy of Austrian Cooking which I was so happy to find in the Highgate bookshop as a reprint after my mother was unaccountably unwilling to give up her original 1950s copy.  And I was looking forward to Rachel Roddy's Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome.  At least I will still be OK with Claudia Roden's and Faye Levy's books of Jewish food since I have Jewish ancestry on my father's side, though I suppose if I am being strict about cultural appropriation I should stick with the Ashkenazi sections, since my great-grandparents would have known nothing of aubergines in their shtetl.

It doesn't leave a lot.  There is Arabella Boxer's Book of English Food, but even there I shall have to tread carefully as when I opened it up at random the first two recipes I saw were for Bombe Favorite and Salade au Truffes.  Most of Elizabeth David is out, with her Mediterranean Food and her French Provincial Cooking, but I have her book of English Bread and Yeast Cookery so at least I will be able to make bread.  And we could work our way through Marguerite Patten's Century of British Cooking, although some of the early recipes might prove tricky.  It is not very easy to buy giblets or eels nowadays.  And I have some of the little books of favourite regional recipes published by Salmon, including the one for Devon which is where I grew up.  I have made their Exeter Stew with Savoury Doughboys and very nice it was too, though the doughboys might be a bit stodgy for the summer months.  But then should I really be meddling with Cornish recipes purely on the basis of having been there on holiday, when they are very keen on having their own identity?

And what about all these culturally appropriated ingredients?  Tomatoes, potatoes, lemons, runner beans, grapes?  Pasta.  Soy sauce.  Rice.  Perhaps we shouldn't be using them.  I might have to cast right back to Colin Spencer's history of British Food and go by what our Anglo Saxon forebears ate. Leeks grew in the early English garth, I think, and people used to eat weeds like Good King Henry. I think that if I were in charge of catering at Pembroke College I might just feed the students on a culturally non-misrepresented diet of oatmeal gruel and stewed leeks until the end of term or until they promised not to be so silly.

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