The Endsleigh Salon reading theme becomes more of a challenge as the second Tuesday evening in the month draws near. Sometimes I can tie it into a book I'm already reading, sometimes I have to search out a specific book.
This month's Christmas theme was Food and alarmingly no food of note was jumping out of any book I was reading, so I turned to my shelves and picked up Cupboard Love A Food Romance sent along by author Laura Lockington a while ago.
All hope rested therein or I would have to take along Delia's Christmas and pretend it was my favourite book.
I had already taken a long hard look at the cover when Laura's book arrived because I'm quite convinced that if that is her childhood picture then it's quite obvious she was a precocious talent.
With that starring role in The Sound of Music as the littlest von Trapp her course was set fair. Can you see it?
Bound to include a wiener schnitzel recipe in that case.
Uncertain what to expect in a book designated a 'Food Romance' I made a start and things looked promising after the first paragraph,but perhaps not in a Sound of Music way,
' I don't care what anyone says. Losing your virginity does not make you an adult. Nor does getting your first credit card. Or buying your first house. Or making a will. Cooking your first Christmas lunch: that's about as grown up as it gets.'
Each chapter of Laura's life, because this is a memoir written around memorable food, begins with a recipe for something which will feature somewhere in the ensuing events, from funeral baked-meats to school dinners, picnics to pasties and I was whisked back to an age that so many of us knew so well.
The days when the bed-bound granny lived in the sitting room with ne'er a thought for being placed in a nursing home. Grace Helen's bed, and her grand mother's company and her humour, plus assorted extended family members (and a few hangers-on) form the centre of Laura's childhood and the source of some of her most useful lessons in life.
The cooking with her mum had me back there with the pinny, the chair and the grey pastry item slipped in the oven alongside the obligatory pie, to be cooked and eaten as if a gourmet dish by my dad. These were indeed the days prior to the reign of Elizabeth David and Edwardian cooking tradition along with pies and suet still ruled in the kitchen.
Laura's mum used Cookeen, mine used Trex, both standard baking ingredient fare in the 1950s and I still have my mum's Trex cookery book to show for all that saturated fat on which we were raised. Doubtless our arteries were done for by the age of ten yet none of us were overweight.
I particularly coveted the Bibby bookmark but it had to remain in the cookery book where it belonged.
The meals unlock the memories for Laura and with them the most wry and hilarious look at her life which had me laughing all the way through, even at the funerals which were a family speciality, they all loved a good wake to cook for.
Laura was the school rebel and now I look back I think I'd like to have been the school rebel too.
There were several at my Girl's Grammar school and I can still remember their names but had better not divulge, they are probably University Chancellors or Government Ministers now. I think my worst misdemeanour was something like trying to jump across the pond in the quad, (probably unsuccessfully) while our school rebels were busy trading Mandrax (pronounced Mandrakes apparently) in the toilets.
The whole school was shamefully rather vicariously thrilled when the drug-bust and the pupil suspensions (my year no less) made the front page of The Daily Telegraph, and the head mistress intoned with gravitas, in a special emergency assembly, of the disgrace these 'rotten apples' had brought on the reputation of the school. I expect we then had to sing the school hymn which was Jerusalem.
I waited in vain for Laura's Sound of Music Wiener Schnitzel recipe which never came but even so I wasn't disappointed. Her writing voice is marvellously engaging so if you sat for a whole afternoon looking at and refusing to eat a plateful of revolting school dinner, sloshed on the Aqua Manda perfume and listened to Mott the Hoople as a teenager, ate Vesta Chow Mein and perhaps even like Laura skived off and went to the Isle of Wight Festival to hear Jimi Hendrix (or wished you'd had the nerve to) then this is the book for you.
If this was before your time (or after it) read it anyway and find out what you missed.
Even better along the way you will find out how to make the very best homemade lemonade ever, the best way ever to cook gammon and the best bread sauce ever invented plus a whole lot more best ever recipes.
I loved it start to finish and Laura has very kindly offered a signed Christmas stocking copy of Cupboard Love for one lucky reader anywhere in the world, so names in comments and Rocky will oblige.
Pictures of the evening, (I did wear 'them') and another prize draw later today.