[london.food] Countryman's Cooking

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From: Simon Wistow
Subject: [london.food] Countryman's Cooking
Date: 11:09 on 07 Mar 2007
For my birthday I was given perhaps the finest cookbook I've ever read.

And I do mean read - I'm slightly strange in that I like flicking 
through cook books from cover to cover but this is more of a memoir 
interspersed with recipes.

W.M.W "Willie" Fowler is a man who should be held up as an example to 
all young oiks and sprogs from an early age. An ex RAF Bomber pilot and 
a detainee at Stalag Luft (where he cooked the commandant's cat with a 
black market onion remarking "Well, we can't dig tunnels all the time") 
he has writtena book "for men. Men who, through choice or circumstance, 
live on their own, so that thye can give a small dinner party and at the 
same time remain on speaking terms with their friends".

As a small boy he was bought up (during term-time, natch) in a hosuehold 
where "the strange late-Victorian theory prevailed that it was infra dig 
for the girls of the family to concern themselves with the mundane 
matters such as the selection, prepation and cooking of food".

The book itself is split into chapters - "the Pheasant", "Grouse and 
Partridge", "Pigeons, Waders and Rook" and, being written during 
rationing, often concerns itself with not only how to cook your 
ingredients but, the best place and time of year to shoot them (Never 
shoot duck during the summer since they'll taste like "the smell of a 
horse pond" - instead wait until harvest time when they'll be fat on 
corn) and thence to pluck and gut them. There's even advice on what to 
do in the event that you buy a goose and it is delivered, still alive, 
in a sack - "Don't let it out of the sack. Invariably some one will want 
to keep it as a pet and you'll end up with the bloody thing in your back 
garden for the enxt two decades".

Interspersed with these are anecdotes of his childhood and time in the 
service. Notable examples include shooting rooks for the pot with the 
Bishop as a child and taking advantage of his childhood rival bending 
over to fire a buckshot at his arse with a catapult (including 
instructions of how to build a catapult and then practice with it).

All in all it wins on several accounts - for a start it's an immensely 
enjoyable read and a candid look at a period of history that was both 
interesting yet seldom spoke about. As a character Wilie is fantastic - 
clearly intelligent, supremely funny in a bone dry martini way whilst 
remaining self effacing. In all his anecodtes the only time he seems 
perturbed is when he's stuck cooking the Christmas dinner.

The recipes on the other hand, whilst basic, are emminently practical 
and straightforward. And, best thing of all, they're like wot a proper 
recipe should be - vague on specifics. Ingredients are often described 
using 'about' or 'a handful'. Roasting times are given in comparison to 
other meat (a fully stuff goose takes about as much time as similar 
sized mutton, for example) or as a description of how it should look 
("roast on a lowish heat until the skin is golden and cripsy and the leg 
pulls easily away from the body"). 

I'm only about a third of the way through the book but I felt compelled 
to write it up here - I'm loving it so far and I think that it jolly 
well deserves to have it's trumpet blown, so to speak.

Pip Pip,


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