The best cookbook I have ever owned (or more accurately, borrowed to never be returned…)

A bit of food nostalgia with The Dairy Book of Home Cookery

I learnt to cook at a very early age, I suspect that hidden away in boxes or albums are photos of me sat on the kitchen counter stealing slivers of meat or at the kitchen table slowly chopping carrots with a small pairing knife wearing a dodgy 90’s shell suit.

We cooked a lot, whether it was preparing vegetables for a stew or spaghetti bolognese to baking bread and making biscuits. Whilst we cooked from scratch out of necessity, we also cooked because we enjoyed it and it was a handy way of keeping us occupied too.

Of all the things we made, baking was always my favorite. We would try and make a whole range of things and in reality, they required only a handful of ingredients. Ginger snaps, cookies, scones, rock cakes, cheese straws, fruit pies- we made them all. We didn’t make a lot of cake as my mom is convinced she isn’t good at them and even now I rarely make them. In the school holidays it was all about peanut biscuits and bread, as December began we would begin our Christmas bake, with scones for Boxing Day, cheese straws and my all time favourite cherry pies. We would buy the filling in a tin and it took a lot of effort for me not to eat it on its own with a spoon.

Our bible was an old book that seems to have been in the family for as long as I can remember. The Dairy Book of Home Cookery, this was our source of inspiration and we would flick through looking at the (now dated) pictures and looking to see what we could make from the ingredients in the cupboard. We had a lot of cookbooks but this has always been the first one we reached for, even now if I’m thinking of making something ‘traditional’ this is the first thing I think of, the book now is old and battered, with pages covered in stains and the cover falling off. I quite like this fact, it wears its age well and is a reminder of happy times.

When I first moved out of my parent’s house I had dropped out of university to work full-time in a pub restaurant as an assistant manager and moved in with 2 ‘chefs’ (pub cooks) and a barman. Our culinary adventures at home were incredibly limited due to a combination of working nights, being frequently broke and an emphasis on making cocktails from alcopops. On reflection, 19-year-old me was not that smart. I pretty much lived off the food I snacked on at work, dark chocolate digestive biscuits and some utterly horrendous concoctions dreamed up one housemate who once made me a dinner of pasta shells with peas, mushroom soup instead of sauce (I hate mushrooms) and a cheese slice on top. Needless to say, it wasn’t until a few years later that I really started cooking again at which point this book made its way off my mom’s shelf to never return. Had it not been for the frequent trips home during that time where I raided the fridge and stocked up on tubs of home-made food I would surely have wasted away or got scurvy.

There is no denying that this is a very dated book, when I look through it now I am always amused by the 70’s style photos and the odd way in which each variation of a recipe is listed individually – there is a recipe for crepes, then orange crepes, then crepes with jam. I never understood why this repetition was needed yet I still would look through each one and it did always give me ideas. Certain sections of the book have been mostly glossed over resulting in it being very clear what we grew up cooking when you flick through the book. I always learn something new from this book, whilst skimming through it this time, I noticed the recipe for Buttered plaice with bananas– 1970’s Britain what were you thinking???

I read cookbooks for pleasure, and think nothing of adding another one to the already stuffed shelves, however as time goes on I would be more than happy for them to start looking like this one. Whilst I take a bit more care now not to splash pancake batter onto the pages, there is something very satisfying about picking up a book and it falling open to your favourite recipe. I generally only follow a recipe 100% if its to do with baking, anything else I just use for inspiration and make bits up as I go along. This has somewhat mixed results…

There are some newer books that I really like, but this is filled with classics and handy essentials, plus memories of getting to lick the spoon clean when we had finished cooking.

N.B. I just have to mention Hedgehog bread because it seems so many people either dont know about it, or have kids and dont make it. Look at this, who wouldn’t want to make it! This was the most exciting thing we baked and whilst I over excitedly tried to make other animals, hedgehogs really are the most suitable and snipping dough with safety scissors is a very enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.


Recipe here:

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