Monday, 1 June 2015

About Cooking... and Cook Books

It was this post on Graham's blog and the comments of his readers that made me decide to write about my way of cooking, and the few cook books I own. Thanks, Graham, and thanks to all of you who commented there, for giving me an idea for a blog post!

I've said it several times on here and probably also in comments I have left on other people's blogs: I rarely cook for myself. My staple food is bread with butter and cheese, and of course chocolate. Hardly a day passes without me having at least one (usually both). I still get my hot meals, though: During an average week, I have one most delicious home-cooked lunch at my parents', and three rather good ones at our biggest customer's canteen, where it is a "must" (but one we don't mind at all) to spend our lunch break with the customer.
On days that I work from home but don't go to my parents, or those weekends when I am on my own and expect neither RJ nor anyone else visiting, I don't cook. But I do enjoy cooking and baking when I know there will be someone to appreciate it.

There are several posts on here with recipes; most of these recipes are not from any cook book but have been passed on to me by being there many times when the respective dish was prepared: For instance, I learned how to make Yorkshire Pudding from my late husband, a born and bred Yorkshire lad. As long as I can remember, my Mum has "always" made Spätzle, and it feels only natural for me to make them more or less the way I saw her making them all through my childhood and youth. My way of making pizza and tiramisu stem from my 10-year-membership with a Sicilian family.

Other posts under the label "Recipes" simply show what I have done with the ingredients I had at hand. Here, I have explained my view of making do with what's there. And occasionally, I use a recipe generously given by a fellow blogger of mine, such as Kay's miracle cookies.

Still, I do own a few cook books, and some of them I have used many times in the past, occasionally opening them even now when it comes to baking, where you need to be a lot more precise about measures, weights, times and temperatures.

They are kept here in one of my kitchen cabinets:

Have a look at them properly:

A short explanation to each book, clockwise starting in the top left corner:
1.) A general cook book that was given to me and my first husband from the local branch of our bank, when we were married in May 1990. I have never used it.
2.) My sister gave this one to me in the early 1990s. I have always loved Barbie, and this one is really fun with its 80s-layout and pictures.
3.) A treasure trove of recipes for all kinds of baking, sweet and savoury, big and small; it was a birthday present from my parents when I turned 17 and has been used very, very often.
4.) This one does not only look like something straight out of the 1950s, it IS from the 1950s. It was published in 1958 and contains an incredible number of recipes for all occasions, daily basics as well as elaborate dishes for posh meals. A lot of it seems outdated, and I seriously doubt my Mum (whose book it originally was) ever made turtle soup, but it is very interesting in its own way, and I would never give it away.
5.) Another present from my sister, this time to my late husband, who loved Indian food and often cooked the most delicious curries for us.
6.) Swabian classics. This book is a "must have" for any Swabian household, and I use it occasionally.

Do you want details? Ok, here goes:

Let's take a closer look at the Barbie book first.

It is of course aimed at children, and nothing in it is complicated. Whenever it comes to doing something with hot water or baking, it says to ask an adult for help. Believe it or not, I have actually followed a recipe from this fun book: there is one for muffins, which I find very easy to adapt to whatever I have at home.

Next is the baking book I was given when I was 17. Someone who commented on Graham's post about cook books mentioned how much food photography has changed over time. This one does not contain photos for every recipe; the full-page pictures are more a general idea of what each chapter for the different kind of baking contains.

I have baked many cakes and cookies from this book when I was younger, always taking note of my observations or changes I made, and even noted the date on which I (first) made it. It's now been many years that I have not used this book, but looking at it yesterday when I prepared the pictures for this post made me remember the much younger Librarian and how often I used to bake back then; it was a bit nostalgic, really.

Let's open the Swabian one now. It contains not only recipes, but also general information about the development of certain of our most popular traditional dishes and some history. For instance, it explains about "baking houses", which did exist everywhere: They were actually large ovens, the size of a hut, where the women of one village (or one quarter of a town) would go once a week with their prepared dough to do all their baking for the week in one go. Their own kitchens usually didn't have an oven, at least not the size they needed to feed their large families.

The recipe I use (and have published on my blog) for Hefezopf is actually the one from this book, although they turn it into a different shape from what I do.

Last but not least, here are a few sample pages from the 1958 book. No photos at all, but lovely illustrations in the style so very typical for that time:

The vast majority of recipes in this book has, I suspect, never actually been used by my Mum. But I can tell from these two pages that she has made a certain type of dough very often.

So, you've seen my cook books; all of them from the outside and some of them inside as well. There is one more recipe, though, which I have in my kitchen and will never, ever throw away. I keep it taped to the inside of one of the cabinet doors:

It is the notes Steve took by the phone when he asked his Mum to remind him how to make Yorkshire Pudding. 

By the way, there are several guest posts by my Mum with her recipes, too. Sometimes when I am not entirely sure about how to make something specific, I simply ask her, and those are the best "recipes" - tried and tested many times :-)


  1. From the look of you I would not have guessed that you live on bread, butter, cheese and chocolate but rather on healthy salads & such! ... ;-)

    1. My evening meal often consists of a bowl of salad and no bread. But I usually have chocolate afterwards ;-)

  2. It sounds as though you cook the way i do, mostly from what you know and what tastes good without always using a recipe. And i don't cook much for myself, either.

    1. Just can't be bothered, really, especially not when I've already had several hot meals during the week.

  3. How touching to keep the recipe in your husband's handwriting inside your cupboard door. I'll bet the Yorkshire puddings you make with it are wonderful. Take care and God bless, xoxox Carol

    1. Thank you, Carol. I and everyone else who has so far had occasion to eat Yorkshire puddings made by me liked them enough to eat up all they had on their plates :-)

  4. I love this post! And I love that you shared that note that Steve wrote when he was asking his Mum for the recipe!!
    I have told you about the letter from Richard when he gave me a recipe for "Toad In A Hole", didn't I?
    He wrote 1 1b sausage...and I thought he had written 116 sausages! HA! I still have the letter, I should scan it and let you see it on the post that I want to do also that Graham inspired!!!
    And I am glad you like the Miracle Cookies....mine varies these days, sometimes they are perfectly moist and soft and sometimes, they are so hard you could break a tooth on them. HA!

    1. It's funny, isn't it, how something we have made many times and always make after the same recipe still turns out different every time.
      That's a funny story about the 116 sausages :-) I ate Toad in the hole many years ago when Steve and I went to Pickering, a lovely little town in Yorkshire.
      Looking forward to your post about it, and glad you liked this one!

  5. I'm so glad that I acted as a catalyst for this post Meike. I was carefully reading the recipes in German and coming to the conclusion that I would have few difficulties using one (I used a French one once upon a time with no problems) until I came to the recipe for Mürbteig and I realised many of the words on that page are longer than some of the sentences that I write. I know that using cookery books in many languages is no problem for people like you and others who are multi-lingual but, for me, it's an achievement. I think that the longest German word I know is Staatsangehörigkeit. I've known it since ever but I can't recall why. It probably had something to do with travelling to the DDR.

    1. Of course after I read your comment, I went and checked the Mürbteig recipe. It didn't strike me as containing particularly long words - it's all just very average :-)
      One of the longest words I sometimes use to illustrate this point to non-native speakers of German is "Immatrikulationsbescheinigung". Nice, isn't it!

  6. What a fun post, Meike! I have far, far, too many cookbooks and some of them were my mothers. She was a wonderful cook and used to read cookbooks as others do novels, just for ideas. My grandmother, oth, was also a wonderful cook but had no cookbooks and never used recipes, even for baking, just as she never used patterns for sewing dresses. She would look at something she wanted to make and somehow, just copy it without a pattern, and things always turned out wonderfully. Perhaps when she was young she had disasters, but I never heard of them.

    You have made me think of getting Das Barbie Party Kochbuch for my granddaughters! Clara, especially, loves playing with her dolls.And they like cooking, too. But what would their Papa say!

    1. Thank you, Kristi. Your grandmother must have been extremely gifted at both cooking/baking and sewing, never needing any instructions. When it comes to baking, I feel more comfortable on the safe side and follow a recipe. As for sewing... that was something I never took up voluntarily, only when I had to at school. I do admire anyone who can really sew. My grandmother was very good at it, too, and my Mum used to sew, too, when we were little.

      The Barbie Party Kochbuch is most likely out of print - this was in the late 1980s/early 90s, but I am sure there are new ones about. What would their Papa say?

  7. I love your collection of cups, and is that a Tupperware I see? I have a whole lot of Tupperware in my kitchen. I didn't know you liked chocolate too, my daughter likes it so much that I have to hide it from her.

    1. Thank you, Francesca! No genuine Tupperware in that cabinet, just a few items of plastic without any brandname attached to them.
      What, you didn't know I like chocolate?! I am a chocoholic!! There is probably more liquid chocolate through my veins than blood :-)