I’m in the middle of a kitchen fit-out. As I type this, the tiler is preparing the wall, and his favourite radio show fills my workspace.
I’ve been waiting for this for over thirty years. The cupboards are almost done, and well over half of them are filled with my cooking equipment. Over two metres of shelf space (about six feet for the non-metric among us) is cookbooks and food reference books. I already have nearly three metres of food-related books in a nearby shelf in my lounge room. Finally, I will be able to find the books I want, when I want. I suspect this means that whenever I need to write about comfort books, for the next little while, I’ll be writing about food or food history.
What sort of books do I have? Everything from Apicius in Latin (with a facing French translation), through a history of potatoes, from Ancient Greek recipes to seventeenth century Polish, from food archaeology in the thirteenth century to food travels in the twentieth. French cooking magazines, a great many community cookbooks and Jewish cookbooks, and… well, lots. I’ve not counted them in recent years – five metres of shelf space is many, many books.
Also, someone stole some once, and I’m still aggrieved. A friend of mine has been gradually replenishing the community cookbook section from the stolen, which is a wonderful process of discovery. I used to have more community cookbooks from Victoria, which is my own background, but now they represent the far west. Next time she visits, I shall cook her dinner from some of the coolest recipes in the books she’s sent me.
Eventually, I’ll bring categories together. My old herbals and wild harvest books are scattered: Culpeper and Mrs Grieve need company. I have two modern cookbooks that recreate Medieval cuisine that I use all the time, then an array of similar books (with research problems, or no recipes) I use mainly for research. Do I store them together? Do I keep all books on food in the Middle Ages together, from the brilliantly insightful ones that I love, to the ones I love to hate because they claim everything and deliver errors?
I’ll not make firm decisions now. The tiler is doing the tiles today and I can’t cook until he’s finished. Dinner tonight is cold chicken sandwiches, made from ingredients that are living right next to my television. It’s camping, in a way.
Next week I’ll have access to everything, I hope, and after that… wait and see.
Right now, I have deadlines.