Tuesday 14 October 2008

A 'New' Recipe Book

I am a bookworm, and one of my favourite things to do is walk around second hand book shops. Many of the books I own are secondhand - some of the copies are sharply new, while others are musty and yellowing with crumbling hard covers - but I buy them because each book carries its own story, and has its own history outside of the one printed on the page. There may be physical reminders of its previous life – smudges, tears, fingerprints, even a photo or receipt – or it may just carry the idea that someone, somewhere has looked over the words before me, but I find it all rather romantic and intriguing.

I never shop with a book in mind, but I am always interested in the old cookery books. Shopping this weekend, I found a book imaginatively called Cooking with Beer, written by Carole Fahy in 1972. The cover looks all of its 36 years and there are a scattering of pictures inside (one of lobster on a silver platter and another of a fondue, both classic 70s). This book is an odd one. As someone who likes to pair food with beer I am always interested in recipes actually containing the good stuff, so as soon as I found this book I picked it up and popped it under my arm. Later, sitting on the beach drinking a cool pint in the warm sun (perfection itself), I read through the book and, well, I never would’ve dreamt of so many recipes!

Firstly, the beer styles are separated into Pale Ale, Mild or Brown Ale, Stout and Sweet Stout, Old Ale and Lager. There are no mention of individual beers in the recipes, just whether one requires, for example, ½ pint of sweet stout, or 1 cup of lager. Many of the recipes are classics: carbonnade, stews and casseroles, a beer batter, beer bread and rarebits. None of these would be out of place in any cookery book, modern or old, and as timeless a drink as beer is, the recipes which feature it at their heart remain constant.

Then there are some more unusual recipes: melon in beer, the alliterate bass boiled in beer (apparently, ‘you will find white fish, shellfish or even oily fish – whichever is your favourite – more exciting when cooked in beer’), cassoulet, beer ratatouille, beer scrambled eggs, beer potatoes (potatoes deep fried in the beer batter), a lager salad dressing, and the intriguingly named cheese muff, beer puffs and English monkey.

But then there are the recipes which are, to put it politely, interesting: beer soup with milk (brown ale, milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon lemon and salt), beer omelet, banana welsh rarebit, and then the dessert section which includes a cheesecake with beer and suggests in the intro to ‘try experimenting with a little light ale or lager poured over your own fruit salad mixture’ – lager and fruit?! Sounds like a cocktail to me!

It is quite some book I tell you, but a really interesting find and great to compare how current tastes have developed. I will try out some of the more unusual recipes - out of intrigue more than anything else – and report back. If this has whet your appetite for cooking with beer, then check out An Appetite for Ale by Will and Fiona Beckett, or jump over to Pencil&Spoon and check out some of my recipes and the beers I suggest to have with them. I’m off for an evening snack of party beer tomatoes (page 78 of the book) which directs as follows (I won’t give exact measurements, use your finer judgment): ‘Wash and thinly slice tomatoes. Arrange on a serving dish and pour over beer (a light ale). Sprinkle with parsley. Serve as a side salad.’


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