Saturday, 9 May 2009

Action Cook Book Reissued

Just dropped through my letter box is my copy of the newly re-issued Action Cook Book by Len Deighton, arguably one of the most influential cook books of the second half of the twentieth century. Flicking through it again, you realise just how cutting edge and influential the design was, with the line drawings, simple text and grid layout helping even the most inexperienced cook create something tasty and fresh. You can tell, just by examining the index, this was the first cook book that really understood that most men of the time needed to start right from the beginning: there are chapters on:
  • Making rice
  • Measuring
  • Utensils
  • Who needs a refrigerator?
even before he starts thinking about any recipes. It was very much a primer for the 'chap' who had never ventured into what was then seen as often the woman's domain - Deighton's book made a significant dent in that perception. Above all, the recipes in here stand the test of time, and reflect Deighton's status as a first-class cook and gourmand and lover of French cooking, recipes like Caneton a l'orange, cassoulet, coquille St Jaques.

The book includes a new foreword by Deighton, in which he writes: "of all the books I have written none of them is dearer to me or more personal than this one." He recalls how his cookstrips were influential in encouraging consumers to source better ingredients and to revisit old favourites which had gone out of fashion. The many different recipes reflect Deighton's status as a traveller and researcher, always picking up new ideas wherever he goes: he leanred to cook squid from a Portuguese fisherman (he also lived in Portgual for many years); he watched a Viennese grandmother produce a superb cheesecake using a childhood recipe; while working as a waiter in Piccadilly, he learned strudel dough from a Hungarian chef.

This is a fascinating book which both harks back to swinging sixties London and the genesis of international cuisine culture in the capital, but remains totally relevant today.

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