Cooking Alone is not your conventional cookbook. You see it was published in 1954 and is less recipe-oriented but a cornucopia of witty food banter for distinctive individuals. The book might feel a bit dated but still stands out many years later. The main ingredient of Cooking Alone is wry humor. Kathleen Le Riche cooks us rich vignettes of gastronomic bite-size character-driven delightful recipes.
Supper for one? Cooking Alone is a delicious miniature compendium of tales inspired by a cast of eccentric solitary characters. Brimming with entertaining anecdotes, recipes (rabbit with aubergine and prunes, anyone?) and top tips (ever wondered how to store ice cream in a bedsit?), Kathleen Le Riche is a witty, charming guide to the single life. Reissued with a new foreword by Bee Wilson, this vintage delight is a hymn to the pleasures of dining solo.
Kathleen Le Riche is the author of Cooking Alone, Cooking From Scratch, and Cooking for a Party, which were published by Faber from the 1950s onwards. Bee Wilson is a prize-winning food writer and historian. Her books include Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat and, most recently, First Bite: How We Learn to Eat. In 2016, she won the food writer of the year award from The Guild of Food Writers for her journalism.
Cooking Alone was first published in 1954, and has been taken out of the archives and given a charming reissued by Faber. This is a delicious miniature compendium of tales inspired by a cast of eccentric solitary characters and brimming with entertaining anecdotes, recipes (rabbit with aubergine and prunes, anyone?) and top tips (ever wondered how to store ice cream in a bedsit?). Kathleen Le Riche is a witty, charming guide to the single life, and added to this reissue is a new foreword by acclaimed food writer Bee Wilson.
THE HAPPY POTTERER
“I adore pottering”, she said, “and there’s no one left to stop me.” Her brothers used to call her “Andfauna” just because she was christened something that went with it. “But brothers always tease, don’t you know,” she would say good-humouredly, watering her window-box of herbs, chives, thyme, lemon thyme, sage, mint, a trailing nasturtium, even parsley which is a petulant plant.
“I like to have everything at hand so that I can suit my dish to my whim. Perhaps I am rather whimsical. I spend as much as half an hour sometimes preparing my coffee grinding it, infusing it, filtering it, or percolating it, whipping the cream—just as I fancy. But I’m forgetful. That’s why I’ve written out the various dishes I make from time to time just in case I wander off to do something else. A descriptive recipe keeps me to heel as it were. Not that I stopped inventing. I always do something a little differently. But I enjoy it preparing my food and, for the first time in my life My Time Is My Own. No one hustles me. The clock can stop, for all I care.”
“How do you know it’s mealtime?”
“By my hunger. I never munch intermittently; I mean indiscriminately. I wait, sometimes hours, I’m sure. I become absorbed in reading, or walking or sewing-some thing, or re-arranging things—just pottering, especially in my sunny little kitchen. Would you like to borrow my book of words? Really, you can have it. I’ll soon make another.”
So I quote freely from her collection of recipes which are pinned together in an envelope marked “Sur Le Plat” — to be cooked on the plate, which must be one which can be used over the heat, and under the grill, to cooktop and bottom.
LAMB CHOP AND OLIVES, WITH TOAST
Turn on the grill. Cut away the thick fat from the chop with scissors. Chip it up and put it on the fireproof shallow dish to melt as the heat mounts. Peel a clove of garlic; cut it up on the lean of the chop on a separate plate. Sprinkle lemon juice or vinegar over it, too. Turn it over and do the same. When the grill is red-hot, dip sliced bread in the melted fat and leave it on the plate. This absorbs the surplus and stops much splutter. Put the lean chop on the hot fireproof dish with the melted fat, and half a dozen black olives, under a red-hot grill. Turn the chop after one minute to let it brown. Turn it again once or twice until it is cooked through. Don’t overcook or it will be hard. When it is nearly done, put the soaked bread on top and let it toast. Turn it to toast the other side, so that it will be crisp dripping toast. By that time the chop will be cooked.
Eating from the dish means one dish and a plate to wash up. As the dish will be so hot, protect the tray or table by putting down a non-slip cork, composition, or another heat-resisting mat first. Never neglect this.
SAUSAGES, GHERKINS AND TOMATOES
One can’t really buy less than half a pound of sausages, which is too much for me for one meal. Even so, I prefer to cook them all at once. While the grill is becoming hot, prick the sausages with the points of the scissors, all over. This prevents burst skin.
(Scissors are excellent for gripping hot things and turning them under the grill, provided you don’t poke them upwards and touch the naked element if it’s an electric grill. Even if it’s gas, pull the pan out to do the turning.)
Slice several pickled gherkins, and halve whatever tomatoes you wish to eat. Leave the skin on so that they keep its shape. Set the sausages on the fireproof plate and let them sizzle under the red-hot grill. Turn them, and put the tomatoes and gherkins alongside to become hot. Soak bread in the liquid fat which emerges, and toast it on both sides.
These meals provide protein (meat, nuts, eggs, or fish), carbohydrate (starch), warming fats and vitamins with what the Americans call “salts” (vegetables), as well as variations of color for a balanced meal.
It’s easy to remember if you have always something brown, white, green, and red. Also yellow, if you can. Makeup what is missing by fruit or creamy sweet course afterward, or later on in the day. That’s all I want to remind myself about diet just now.
It’s no good trying to fry sausages from the raw. They spit and break asunder. Once they are grilled the way is prepared. Those grilled yesterday are easy to slice, length-wise, or across in rings. Instead of a frying pan or frying plate, I sometimes use a saucepan for shallow frying. Get it quite hot with a lump of dripping or margarine in it. When the fat is really hot, not before, put in the sausage slices. Keep turning them until they are hot right through.
BACON FRIED WITH MUSHROOMS
Fry bacon in a deep pan, too. It confines the spraying of fat fumes. Cut the fat off first, and nip the rind here and there with the scissors to prevent it from curling. When it has melted in the saucepan, put in the lean bacon and let it fry in its fat. Keep turning it, but don’t wait for it to go brown or it will be as hard as a nutshell. Rub the button mushrooms over with a linen cloth dipped in salt, to clean them. Or rinse the open ones in a bowl of cold water. Don’t bother to peel them. Slice them down through the stems and put them in when the bacon is taken out. Keep turning them until they darken, when they will be cooked through. For this dish, a plate must be heated separately. Toast bread on it under the grill while the top is being used for the bacon. A bowl of watercress goes very well with this instead of a green-cooked vegetable.
BACON GRILLED WITH EGG
When the bacon is grilled it can be made truly crisp. The fat runs off it. Put a piece of bread under it to catch the melting fat, which is afterward toasted as dripping toast. Take the bacon and the toast off the grilling plate, which should have enough fat left to cook an egg. If not, add a knob of margarine, slide in the egg and let it grill gently. The hot plate will set the underneath, and the grill will set the top. Put the bacon back to become hot again in a few minutes, and it is ready to eat.
Heat any tomato ketchup you may like to use, when the egg is nearly set, under the grill, or over the top. It is much nicer than putting it on cold, as is usual.
Sometimes one is lucky and the beefsteak is tender as a lamb; soft and finely grained. If so, simply slide it on its dish under a red-hot grill. This will sear it and so seal it in the juices which will keep the flavor intact. But do the same on the other side in one minute. Turn it in with the scissors.