A Note in the Margins
Once upon a time before I started this blog, a friend of mine, a journo for a food industry website, asked me to contribute to a blog attached to the website, called All Eaten Up. Over the following year I wrote on and off – increasingly more on than off – and knew by the end of it that I loved nothing more than writing about food.
This was one of the posts I contributed, written just one month before I started this blog and some of the recipes mentioned have now been shared here. All Eaten Up has since been wound up.
It was a chance discussion with a friend earlier in the week that lead me to open up the cupboard in the kitchen where I keep all my recipe books, and take down the tome titled, “Gourmets Delight”. It’s an old tin with a flip top lid hinged to the side that opens like the cover of a book. I bought it in a flea market decades ago, and originally it contained biscuits. These days it holds scraps of paper and newspaper cuttings of recipes that I promise I will one day write down and store properly for posterity.
Do you annotate recipes? Do you keep those snippets that are gifted to you by others? When you comment on the deliciousness of a friend’s meal, do you hastily scribble down the recipe as they breezily toss off the ingredients and method (seemingly in one breath) before pouring you another wine?
Elizabeth David was prolific in her commentary of other people’s recipes. Perhaps it was the habit of a lifetime, but nothing would stop her from scribbling in margins, and later, on post-it notes, her commentary on the suitability of a recipe – or otherwise.
The conversation with my friend started because he mentioned surprise that I didn’t actually annotate, or record any adjustments to any recipe I keep. “Nothing?” he asked, “Not even, ‘add more garlic’?” Well, actually, no I don’t. I do adjust recipes; my great grandmother’s recipe for christmas pudding calls for cooking apple and grated carrot. I’ve substituted glacé pawpaw, prunes and pineapple. I just haven’t written down the changes.
The gourmet delights in the old biscuit tin revealed some wonderful snippets of times past. Frequently, they were simply ingredients scrawled down on the nearest paper to hand, but without a title or recipe to identify what recipe it actually is. From these scribblings emerged recipes for strawberry muffins, complete with the name and phone number of a carpet cleaning company, a muesli slice, underneath which my daughter had written in kindergarten handwriting, “Mami”, some bagna gauda and a corn chowder. On the back of a recipe for a mango salsa was a note to my kids telling them to PLEASE bring in the washing. There was a chutney recipe written by my grandmother, which I had completely forgotten about and was unexpectedly touched by given she has been dead for over fifteen years.
Another, in spidery writing in green ink on thick pink paper was for brownies, the author unidentified. But my favourite, and the reason for today’s topic, was the recipe I wrote down shortly after returning from a particularly romantic – and boozy – dinner some twenty-five years ago. It was a fine dining establishment, and the waiter cooked the meal at our table. Very nervously, I asked if he would mind telling me what he was cooking, and he agreed.
A bottle of wine later, I returned to our hotel room and wrote it down as quickly as possible in case I forgot anything. I grabbed the only paper I could find – the back of a piece of cardboard that was in a pantyhose packet – the pen was an eyeliner pencil, just slightly thinner than a crayon. What follows is the exact way I wrote it down. I still use it, just as it is, as a speciality of the house each Easter time. Typically for me, it has no recipe name and hardly any method attached, and I’ve forgotten the name of the restaurant I ate it at but now it’s yours – add a note in the margins as you wish.
Mussels }add – about 1 cup ea.
Brandy – ½ cup flambé
Seafood bisque – 2 cups
Stir thru’ add 1 cup tomatos [sic], skinned and chopped
1 tblspn ea pernod
Stir thru 2-3 mins
Serve garnish [sic] with chives
Seafood bisque: fish/prawn stock, thickened with rice
Purée [bisque] – add tomato paste and seasoning
Do you have a collection of treasured handwritten recipes in a book or tin? If you do, Emma Jeffrey at Spoonflower has a sensational idea for transferring your treasured recipes into tea-towels, which makes them just about the perfect Christmas, housewarming or bridal shower gift I can think of. You’ll need to be handy with a photo editing suite but it’s a lot easier than it sounds. You can find all the instructions in this tutorial.