Gold nuggets

“Kitchen Essays”
Agnes Jekyll (Persephone Books)

Anyone who suspects most food writing is done by software these days will feel vindicated by this reprint of very pithy pieces from The Times of London, originally run off the presses in 1922. Agnes Jekyll, “an artist-housekeeper” who lived from 1860 to 1937, clearly had no access to FoodPerfect6, and the 35 short essays in this collection almost sing with originality.

My copy, a Christmas gift, has yellow Postits on every third page. A few flag recipes that sound either surprisingly contemporary, like polenta au gratin, or profoundly lyrical, like the sole a la Dorothea served with a “suspicion” of tomato sauce and “a certainty” of mushrooms.

But many more are marked just for Jekyll’s trenchant observations:

“Marriage feasts resemble the institution they celebrate, of which Montaigne observed that those within its confines want to get out, whilst those without endeavour to get in.”

“…Apples are proverbially so health-giving that no doctors can be expected to do anything but eat them themselves and discourage that practice in others….”

“God made the first Christmas, and man has ever since been busy spoiling it.”

This is one of the best reads outside Elizabeth David.

With bold mouse and keyboard

“The Pedant in the Kitchen”
Julian Barnes (Atlantic Books, London)

Anyone doubting that the Brits are different from you and me has only to flip open Julian Barnes’ foray into food, a collection of columns from the Guardian, the newspaper that has become the must-read for Americans stranded with an apparently enslaved press. Not only does the prolific novelist (and translator of “In the Land of Pain”) get away with words like prelapsarian and pertinacity, words editors here would dumb down for a Food Network audience. But he also has more ideas per chapter than any six Americans. Continue reading