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Bathtime reading

13 February 2015


IF YOU enjoy a cookery book that appeals to both memory and the imagination, Ambrose Heath's The Country Life Cookery Book, first published in 1937 and now reprinted (Persephone Books, £14 (CT Bookshop £12.60)), is a treat.

It has delightful wood engravings by Eric Ravilious, and takes the reader month by month through the year. Heath was a journalist before specialising in cookery, and introduces each month with a discussion of what might be sown in the vegetable garden for good eating later in the year.

If you want step-by-step instructions and a list of ingredients with precise measurements, this is not going to tempt your palate, but if you love to read a cookery book in the bath, love simple, seasonal ingredients, and know a batter from a béchamel, this is ambrosia.

There are plenty of recipes for pancakes, and a few for Lent; so here, in Heath's words, are a few ideas for Shrove Tuesday.

Spinach pancakes make an excellent accompaniment to meat dishes. Shred and parboil some spinach, and finish cooking it, until it is dry, in a little butter. Season with pepper and salt, and a touch of nutmeg, and mix with an equal amount of the kind of batter used for making Yorkshire pudding. Bake in little moulds, and serve with veal, beef, or ham. The appearance of the pancakes is improved if the spinach is sieved.

For Crêpes panachés, cream 50g (2 oz) of butter with 50g (2 oz) of caster sugar, beat in two eggs, and stir in lightly 50g (2 oz) of flour. Add 285ml (½ pt) of warmed milk, and don't be upset if it appears to curdle slightly, because it should.

Beat well, and leave covered for an hour. Then butter half a dozen small plates [for "plates" you could use pre-heated sandwich tins]. Divide the batter between them, and bake them quickly until the batter rises, and then more slowly for about ten minutes. Put one on your dish and spread it with hot jam, and do the same to the other four, each with a different jam, leaving one for the top covering. Dust with fine sugar, and serve very hot. Choose your jams as you wish, but I suggest that guava jelly might be one of them.

Prawn pancakes are delicious. Get a tin or glass of prawns or shrimps*, and toss them in a little butter to heat them well through. Bind them with a little cream, or a thick white sauce made with milk and fish stock. Season with pepper and salt, and add a few drops of onion juice or chopped chives.

Make some thin pancakes, unsweetened, stuff them with this mixture, roll them up, arrange them on a long dish, sprinkle them with a little cream, or butter, and grated cheese, and brown very quickly. (If the prawns are large ones, they had better be cut up first.)

*I wondered whether "tin or glass" were old-fashioned measures particular to prawns. I finally decided that Heath simply meant a small tin, or a wine-glass measure, of prawns, but as the quantities are vague, I would reckon on using about 100g (3½ oz) of prawns per person.

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