I hadn’t heard of Laurie Colvin until I wandered across a review of her republished collection of her food writings in The Guardian. I hadn’t heard of her, but I had read her chapter on English Food in an anthology of travel writing. It was a chapter I re-read a couple of times because I enjoyed it so much.
She wrote about more than English Food, however. Principally, she was a novelist, but she loved cooking and entertaining and she wrote about it. This book was originally published after her death in 1992 and has been republished now by Fig Tree.
In her forward Laurie writes: In foreign countries I am drawn into grocery shops, supermarkets and kitchen supply houses. and I was immediately struck by a sense of fellow-feeling because I, too, love supermarkets and grocery shops in foreign countries. She then follows this up by a quick anecdote about going to a black-tie book launch and being worried that they would be served tiny portions of delicate food and were instead, to her delight, served a more substantial beef stew with noodles. That would have been my reaction too.
Not that I get invited to book launches, black-tie or otherwise, but Laurie did. And that kind of bohemian, arty, loft-living lifestyle permeates through the book in her anecdotes of meals she has cooked and meals she has eaten. If that makes her sound flighty and arty-farty, that’s not what comes across in the book. Her voice is one of calm, good sense and an unflappable attitude to cooking. You feel that if you were cooking a meal for her she would know exactly what to do if it went wrong and would cheerfully make the best of it if things went irretrievably wrong.
If all else fails, eat out, she says in her chapter Starting Out in the Kitchen.
Most of the chapters are based around a recipe of plain, good, home cooking. The chapter on Potato Salad is mostly anecdotes about why people don’t make it themselves anymore, but she then gives a couple of recipes to try. Most of what she writes is timeless, but the 80s do make themselves felt in certain places – she is clearly battling against Nouvelle Cuisine and dire warnings against saturated fats pepper the book.
She also gives advice about what equipment you will need, how to feed fussy eaters (she included vegetarians in that list), baking bread, giving dinner parties and how to make shepherd’s pie for 150 people.
And she writes well. She never deviates from a chatty, immediate style, but still vividly describes people, situations and food. This art reaches its height in the “Repulsive Dinners” chapter. The description of the ‘Scottish genius’s’ dinner has you leaning forward with anticipation to see what will be revealed by the lifting of the casserole dish lid and then giggling with horror and relief that you don’t, as Laurie did, have to eat it.
This isn’t a recipe book. It’s a book to read near the kitchen and vicariously revel in good (and bad) food and good company of which Laurie is the best kind of hostess.
Title: Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
Author: Laurie Colwin
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Fig Tree
Date: Oct 2012