Sunday, April 22, 2007


I got this book, by Nigel Slater, first as an audio-book which I loaded on my Ipod thingy to 'read' whilst travelling. A book that saves on weight is a useful book. I'm not used to audio books, however, and find it difficult to keep up the concentration; particularly when in Tbilisi I connected the Ipod to a set of speakers but wandered around the house, or clattered around the kitchen. It's different with music - and in fact I have the strangest ability to go into something akin to a trance even with the loudest music pouring into my ears, getting my rest and still not missing a note. But with wurdzz it's different.

So somewhere somehow I picked up a copy of the book. To my transatlantic readers it should be explained that Nigel Slater is a food writer who has been writing in the Observer (a Sunday newspaper) seemingly forever; I can't remember who was there before him, maybe Prue Leith? There was someone else before her, Kate/Katherine Whitehouse (??) but I never experienced her as a foodwriter in a newspaper. She did write a wonderful paperback on cooking in a bedsit which came out in the mid 1970s. Unfortunately I left all my cookery books behind when I moved house in 1986, and the successors in the flat threw them out. There had been some interesting stuff amongst them; I managed to replace some of them with their later versions. He has brought out, as is every foodwriter's wont, a number of very interesting cookery books, and of course you can read his recipes every week in the Observer.

This book is about his childhood and adolescence. He tells it, heading every chapter, some very short, with a heading of food. This is very nostalgic, though some of those foods, like the trifle with the very firm jelly (Delia Smith would not make it like that) and many other of the ready-made foods are thankfully a flavour of times past. I hope. Cadbury's Smash? Angel Delight? Perhaps with the current obesity epidemic in the UK, they have been replaced by much more evil foods. The story is told in a very flat, northern sort of way (especially if you listen to Slater reading it). A bit Alan Bennett, but not quite as droll, with short sentences and simple words. If you read it very carefully, you come across gems like someone having 'lips like a cat's bottom'. Slater seems to have had a bit of a hard childhood, what with his mother dying when he was around 10, a fairly unapproachable father who sometimes threatened to place him in care, and who died when Slater was about 16, and the demon cleaning stepmother. His mother could not cook but she loved, the father could not cook and his love was expressed in strange ways, and the stepmother cooked wonderfully but definitely did not show any love to the boy. Add to that the fact that he woult not eat certain foods, driving his carers crazy. All pretty horrendous stuff, really. No wonder he escaped as soon as he could. At the end of the book we also learn things about hotel kitchens which we wish not to know.

It's a great book for recalling a particular period of life in Britain what with the food - especially the prawns Marie Rose - , the house in the countryside with steamed up windows, the Aga and no central heating, and the early attempts at love or rather sex. It would make a great subject for a sociological study of which level of society ate which food. I do remember the packets of trifle mix including the jelly, the custard, the biscuits and the hundreds and thousands, but that's nothing like Delia's rich sherry trifle with the biscuits, the fruit, the sherry (if you like), the double cream custard, and the further layer of double cream on top. Scrumptious? Let me go and look up the recipe!