Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - March - 2023 Issue

Catalogue 1 from Books for Cooks


Catalogue 1 from Books for Cooks.

This catalogue is a first, Catalogue 1 from Books for Cooks. Books for Cooks is a specialty cook book bookshop in Melbourne, Australia. As such, there are many collections of recipes and books about food from Australia, but their selections are worldwide. Europe and America are well-represented too. It should also be noted that books are not limited to the food one chews. Drinks, notably wine, are also covered. You may not technically cook your wine (though you can cook with it), but a good meal is deserving of a glass of wine to go with it. And finally, one more point about Books for Cooks – the Catalogue 1 isn't reflective of how long they have been in business. They have been around for 40 years. They just didn't want to rush into printing numbered catalogues. Like fine wines, the concept had to be aged to perfection first. Here are a few samples of these books for cooks and those who consume their fine creations.


We begin with one of the classics of antiquarian cookery, The Experienced Housekeeper, for the Use of Ladies, House-keepers, Cooks, &c. Wrote purely from practice, published in 1769. This is a first edition of a book that went through 13 editions plus many more than that of pirated ones. The author was Elizabeth Raffald, who served 15 years as housekeeper for Lady Elizabeth Warburton, to whom the book is dedicated. Mrs. Raffald was a remarkable woman. Her father had been a teacher, which helps explain how a woman in those times would have the facility to write books. She also proved to be an amazing businesswoman, in addition to writing a best-selling book, opening a newspaper, publishing city directories for Manchester, establishing two post offices, opening two inns, a cookery school, selling pastries, and opening a servant's placement business. On the side, she raised six daughters (some have claimed as many as 16 but that seems an exaggeration). All of this was accomplished in a lifetime that lasted only 48 years. Unfortunately, her husband, the gardener at the Warburton estate, was a drunkard and a spendthrift who wasted most of what she earned. According to John Harland's Collectanea Relating to Manchester, when her husband complained about his life and threatened to drown himself, she replied, “Well, I'll tell you what John Raffald; I do think that it might be the best step you could take, for then you would be relieved of all your troubles and anxieties and you really do harass me very much.” He never made that threat again. I don't know how Harland could know of this personal conversation, but it makes a great story. And Mrs. Raffald's recipes make for great meals, at least by English standards a couple of centuries ago. Item 7. Priced at AU $2,750 (Australian dollars or approximately $1,886 in U.S. currency).


This next book is titled Comme On Dine Partout (as we dine everywhere), published in 1842. The author, Jacques Arago, would have known that as, in a manner of speaking, he did try the food everywhere. He was the artist on Louis de Freycinet's circumnavigation of the globe in 1817-1820. He must have been adaptable to different cuisines or he never would have made it back alive. Books for Cooks explains that Arago presents us with sometimes humorous accounts of the dining habits of many peoples, “including the Patagonians & Gauchos of Argentina, the Aborigines of New South Wales, the Chinese, the Papuans, the Negres-Sorciers (Martinique & Reunion), the Marianas Islanders (Guam), Hawaiians, Brazilians, Hottentots and Kaffirs before finishing with a chapter Repas d’anthropophages, a study of the cannibalistic habits of the Ombaise, the people of the Alor islands, near Timor.” Item 14. AU $2,750 (US $1,886).


Australia may not be associated with wine quite the same way as, say, France, but they make some fine wines. Penfold is a name associated with wines in Australia almost as far back as when it was a place England sent their prisoners, and I hope someone gave those poor wretches a glass of it once in awhile. Today, it is not a wine to consume if you are on a tight budget, although, in America, Australia is more often associated with inexpensive wines that are surprisingly good for the price. In 1908, Penfold Wines and Samuel A. Mills created The Wine Story of Australia. It tells the story of Australian wines as of that date through the eyes of Penfold. Item 25. AU 895 (US $613).


This one had me confused before undertaking a little more research. The title is Origin: the Food of Ben Sheury, published in 2012. Sheury is described as the chef at Attica, and to Americans, Attica is the notorious prison in New York. I doubt they serve much fine food to these hardened criminals. It turns out that Attica is a restaurant in Melbourne, and it has been rated as the best restaurant in Australia and one of the 50 best in the world. Here's what's really neat – his dishes feature native ingredients foraged from Australia and New Zealand. They reflect his respect for local culture, rather than just importing food from somewhere else. The fact that he has been able to do this while still achieving international recognition is a sign there must be some amazing recipes herein. Item 1. AU $950 (US $650).


Here is a book that was ahead of its time. The title is A Book of Mediterranean Food, by Elizabeth David. Mediterranean food is the rage today, and with good reason. It is generally believed to be the healthiest diet around. It's the one followed by those people who live to be 100 around the eastern Mediterranean Sea. However, this is not a recent book. It was published over 70 years ago, in 1951. Evidently, many in Britain shared her view about this cuisine as the book was a big success. According to Artemis Cooper, writing in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, “When she began writing in the 1950s, the British scarcely noticed what was on their plates at all, which was perhaps just as well. Her books and articles persuaded her readers that food was one of life’s great pleasures, and that cooking should not be a drudgery but an exciting and creative act.” I'll raise a glass of Penfold to that. Item 6. AU $450 (US $307).


Books for Cooks may be reached at +61 3 8415 1415 or shop@booksforcooks.com.au. Their website is www.booksforcooks.com.au.

Rare Book Monthly

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