A couple of months ago I returned home from work with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s new cook book ‘River Cottage Every Day’ tucked under my arm. It was for a review for issue 30 of Countryfile Magazine (out now, by the way – the first since my departure as Editor.)
My wife took one look at it and said, “Oh no, turn around. I told you: No more cook books!”
It’s true, our house has fallen foul of cook bookaholism, a modern malady which is an insidious side effect of the cult of the celebrity chef. The shelves of our kitchen are groaning under the weight of Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Valentine Warner, Marco Pierre White and even Levi Roots of Reggae Reggae sauce fame. (I met Mr Roots at the Good Food Show a few years back, by the way. Huge man; lots of bling; one of the firmest handshakes I’ve ever experienced. I’ll never play guitar again!)
Do we need them all? No. Do we use them all? Well, at a push we’ve probably scraped together a few dishes from each (except for the 1985 ‘Doctor Who Cookbook’. I’ve been tempted to try Davros’s Extermination Pudding or Sil’s Slimy Slurp but have never got around to it.) Do they lurk on the shelf making us feel guilty that we’re not letting them change the way we cook? Definitely.
So why do we do it? Why collect such a dazzling array of culinary tomes only to have them gather dust when we repeatedly reach for our battered and well-loved copy of Margueritte Patten’s 1,000 Favourite Recipes?
Is it the same reason why so many of us bought ‘A Brief History of Time’ in the late 80s? Steven Hawking’s cosmological chronicle sat largely unread but proudly displayed on our bookshelves. Look at me, it screamed, I don’t waste my time on rubbish like Jackie Collins. I read important, complicated stuff. Get me.
Our modern addiction to glossy cookbooks, rammed with succulent images of dishes we will never make, fulfills the same aim – proving that we care about what goes into our bodies, spend hours lovingly creating gastronomic masterpieces and never, ever call out for a Dominos Pizza to scoff in-front of Dancing on Ice.
Perhaps we should start a support group: “Hello, my name’s Cavan and I’m addicted to cook books.”
I blame Delia. It’s all her fault.
Issue 30 of Countryfile Magazine is out now. As well as my review of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingtall’s ‘River Cottage Every Day’. It also includes my latest Spectred Isle. The Abbot’s Hell Hounds is a demonic tale of a 12th Century holy man who allegedly was in league with Old Nick. You can read past Spectred Isle’s here.