When the weather turns, I find myself shifting seasons in the closet–putting away sweaters, digging out T-shirts–and in the kitchen. And when summer is firmly set, I find myself pulling out my worn copy of Elizabeth David’s Summer Cooking.
My copy isn’t worn from cooking; I don’t think I’ve ever cooked from it, but I do read it every summer. This copy is worn because it’s a vintage item dug out of a book sale pile. As I’ve written, I was into the Penguin cookbooks for a while. They stand out as distinct voices–not only for their age, but for their Britishness–Cooking in a Bedsitter, anyone? Even when they’re touting foreign food, the books come across as a bit roast beef–encouraging the cook to be daring in the use of garlic and explaining what a zucchini is.
Summer Cooking was originally written in 1955–after David had spent World War 2 in the Mediterranean and carried back the sunshine of olive oil and garlic to a still food-rationed, gray Great Britain. And in it, she pulls up international recipes–Omelette Savoyard, Farso Magro, Sikh Kabob–but she also provides quintessentially English dishes like Rowanberry Jelly, Summer Pudding, and A Veal and Ham Pie.
I have two tabs stuck in pages. On pages 170 and 171 are six recipes: Cream Cheese with Angelica, Geranium Cream, Cream Cheese with Apricot Brandy, Cremets d’Angers, Lemon Ice Cream, Chocolate Chinchilla. That list is a kind of poem. Maybe at some point I intended to make these recipes–I love all things apricot–but every year, just reading them seems to be enough.
The second tab is tucked in at page 208, marking David’s chapter on picnics. More poetry–Edwardian hampers, spirit lamps, a Dutch garden that leads to a coppice. And suggestions for cold chicken, cold steak and kidney pudding, smoked trout sandwiches, and hard boiled eggs.
I have a husband who is rather uncooperative in these matters–he won’t sit on the ground and won’t eat cold chicken. But he is a big fan of Pan Bagnat–a layered, muffaletta-esque Provencal sandwich of tuna, oil and vinegar, and cold cuts–and I know he would like David’s more British version, Shooter’s Sandwich. A grilled steak with all its salty juices leaking into a crusty loaf of bread and sliced as needed. “With this sandwich a man may travel from Land’s End to Quaker Oats and snap his fingers at both,” quotes David.
In fact, the bulk of the picnic chapter is made up of quotes meant to inspire. She records dreamt of picnics and actual picnics. Mrs. Beeton advises on serving a picnic for forty people, Ford Maddox Ford recalls a beach accessible only by boat and sixty bottles of wine, served beneath umbrella pines. And William Hickey writes about a breakfast picnic at a coronation.
Doesn’t that just sum up an English summer–kings, queens, and a Mediterranean escape.