The much loved Cordon Bleu cookery book

Dorothy lived at number 12 Mile End Place, and I lived at number 4. So neighbours were we in the beginning. But this soon evolved into a firm friendship. Nurtured by our love of good food, amongst many other things. 

As both of us were single occupants living in our picturesque cottages in this very special street in East London we both agreed we found it difficult to cook for just one. We decided it was far more pleasurable to cook for two. We often exchanged recipes or invited each other for meals to taste an effort. 

One of my favourite books is a cookery book that Dorothy gave me. Its really old and battered – bearing testament to the usefulness of it over the years. 

Creases and food stained pages

The yellowed pages are occasionally creased as a place marker in the book to allow the reader to quickly find the desired recipe. I know that aficionados of books would probably frown on such practice. Defiling a book with a crease to its pages but I feel that it brings me closer to the previous owner – in this case a very good friend who is no longer here.

Dorothy bequeathed this beaten up book to me one day when we were discussing recipes. This was a few years ago now and her eyesight was already failing and reading recipe books was becoming tiresome for her. She told me she used this one often and she was pleased to give it to me. I know that she and her friend May used to hold splendid dinner parties and that this book would have supplied inspiration for some of them.

I took a closer look at this old book – and let the pages fall open… Some of the recipes I found were quite surprising. Others not at all – I recognised them as Dorothy had made them for me.

The recipes that fell out

There are so many pages to choose from that carry evidence by way of foody fingers and creases, but the following recipes are the ones that fell out quickly so I suspect are probably the ones that Dorothy used the most.

Spiced Cod

Either fried Eels, or Eels ‘en matelote’ (there’s more food on the ‘en matelote’ recipe so I like to think this is the one she used!)

Bitkis or Steak and Kidney Pie

Curried Chicken or Coq au Vin

Rabbit Flamande

Crepes Suzette

The back of the book

I read the summary on the back of the book and could instantly imagine Dorothy doing the same as she found the book for the first time. And thoroughly approving of its lineage. Being firstly a Penguin Book, and not only that, but a Cordon Bleu cookery book, authored by no less than the co-principals of the English Cordon Bleu School. 

I can also quite imagine her making a comment to May, her best friend, as she read the back cover about the  reference to the book being written primarily for females. Dorothy a staunch feminist would not have approved … but it looks like she forgave the authors this discrepancy and went on to relish the book and its wisdom.

The Penguin Cordon Bleu Cookery by Rosemary Hume and Muriel Downes

‘The Term ‘Cordon Bleu’ has come to be accepted as the hallmark of culinary perfection – the very highest standard of European cooking with a French accent. This Penguin cookery book prepared by the co-principals of the English Cordon Bleu School needs little other recommendation.

It is enough to say that it is written for people who like good food, with all that this means. The recipes for all kinds of dishes are clear and detailed, and the authors continually stress the importance of presentation – of colour, shape and garnish. Equally they give the technical reasons for the methods they suggest, knowing that so much careless cooking is the result of an imperfect understanding.

With this handbook in the kitchen, and herself – at least, in one cunning series of recipes – in the sitting-room, no woman need be frightened of entertaining the most exacting gourmets.

The cover shows a detail from the ‘Still Life of Vegetables, Fruit and Game’ by Adrian van Utrecht, reproduced by courtesy you of the Ashmolean Museum.

Acknowledgements

Dorothy Rendell – who knew that I’d enjoy this book just as much as she. 

The Gentle Author – for taking the time and effort to get to know Dorothy and for giving her the recognition she deserved as an artist, and for recording her life and work for posterity.

Dorothy Rendell Artist

Dorothy Rendell’s East End Portraits

So Long Dorothy Rendell

An Exhibition of Dorothy Rendell

The Legacy of Dorothy Rendell

Dorothy Rendell’s East London

Dorothy Rendell’s Solo Show

Dorothy Rendell at Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Silver Locket Blog – For unveiling to me a whole new way of looking at books – I really wouldn’t have thought to try and put into words my appreciation of this dear old book if it wasn’t for her. So thank you!

The Story Singer – for being the custodian of the small things in life that make a big difference, and for reminding me to be mindful of mine.

About the author

Comments

  1. I really can’t express how much I love this: the tribute to your friend Dorothy, the picture of you both sharing recipes, the bespattered and much loved pages from the book. It reminds us all of the pleasure of taking our time: I am finding cooking immensely soothing in this time of isolation. I often look at my mother’s Penguin cookbooks, held together with elastic bands and think of how many stories are held within. I am extremely touched to be mentioned in the acknowledgements. I wish I had written it myself!

  2. I loved reading this and was thinking that it was exactly the sort of thing I like writing about, so I was immensely touched to see your kind acknowledgement at the very end. I am imagining the two of you deep in conversation over something delicious. What a joyful thing for you to have shared and then received as a gift. The recipe for Rabbit Flamande caught my eye especially. We learnt the “Dijon mustard on a slice of bread” trick from a lovely Belgian friend who is an excellent cook. It really adds body and flavour to a casserole and works just as well in a meat-free version. I now have inspiration for something to cook in the next few days!

  3. You have just transported me straight back to Dorothy’s little kitchen at number 12. Thank you!

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