But the cookbooks I love most are the ones I hang on to for sentimental reasons. Why, after 27 years of living with an electric oven, do I keep hold of the Pelling family’s battered Aga cookbook? Because it keeps alive my belief that one day, when my boys are through school, I will live near the sea with a cast iron range and replicate my mum’s “will they, won’t they” dance of uncertainty as she calculated the exact moment to open the Aga door without her meringues collapsing into mush.
Similarly, I’ve clung on to a battered Highlands cookbook that belonged to my mother-in-law and shows you a zillion ways to cook salmon and grouse, even though we live hundreds of miles from the Tweed and grouse moors and my husband’s a vegetarian. Better still, within its pages lurk a top secret document, allegedly vital to reviving my husband’s family fortunes. I can’t replicate all of it here – because then I’d have to kill you – but my late father-in-law’s distinctive spidery scrawl is headed: ‘The true recipe for Drambuie’. Aficionados may know the folk legend that the formula for the whisky-based liqueur was handed by the Stuart heir, Bonnie Prince Charlie, to Captain John MacKinnon after the Battle of Culloden as a reward for his valour. According to my pa-in-law and his brother, the wrong branch of Clan MacKinnon got hold of production rights long, long ago and the stuff you buy currently is an over-sweetened travesty of the original beverage. Around 50 years ago they tried to challenge the then Edinburgh-based producers, to no avail. Apparently my sons’ sacred duty is to continue this futile quest, even unto the grave.
Books for Cooks in London’s Notting Hill, where the shelves are crammed with volumes on all topics gastronomic, know that for most seasoned chefs cooking is as much about reverie as actual food preparation. Culinary alchemy happens in the space between recipes and your imagination. But as Jamie Oliver surely knows, YouTube doesn’t foster delectable daydreams; it’s all about the torrid here and now. Call me a Luddite (though I’d say “wanton sensualist”), but I’d rather hang out with a 1999 copy of The Naked Chef.