You can tell from the title that this is an old-fashioned cookbook, written long before Britain – certain parts of it, anyway – became an exciting place for food lovers.
It uses old-fashioned terms, such as “gill” (a somewhat obsolete measurement equal to about 142ml), and refers to “navy blue serge bloomers”. In the preface, Madame Simone Prunier, who brought the famous Prunier seafood restaurant to London in the 1930s, uses “gay” not as reference to a person’s sexual orientation, but to mean happy or cheerful.
The author’s introduction speaks of days long gone and mentions childhood memories of “Olive the cook and her bedroom slippers”, her mother ordering the family’s meals each morning and the menu being written “in a large book with a shiny black cover”, and a young Iris inscribing the menus “on the white china menu stands for dinner” (the parlourmaid would rewrite them more neatly, after Iris went to bed at 7pm).
But the recipes could have been written by a back-to-basics, bearded and tattooed hipster chef proclaiming that “what’s old is new again”, rather than by an Englishwoman with a French cooking school (Tante Marie) in Woking in the 60s.
Syrett’s introduction is still relevant, especially to today’s farm-to-table movement. “When it comes to materials, then I think that ‘only the best is ever the best’. There is nothing so lovely as young vegetables out of one’s own garden, just as one’s own cream and milk and butter taste far and away better than any that are bought in a shop. Unfortunately, few people have this advantage and so we must make the best use of the materials available. As far as possible, I feel that good butter is a very necessary ‘must’ in the kitchen – the improvement in the flavour of the dish more than justifies the cost,” she writes.
“I have included a very large number of vegetable recipes in the book. Vegetables, as well as fish, are sadly neglected in this country, and I believe that new ideas for these two would be welcome …
“Finally, no one who hates cooking will ever be a first-class cook. I would go as far as to say that you must be a little greedy to enjoy cooking. Cooking is an art, and one who derives great pleasure from producing a dish, beautifully executed, dished attractively and with restraint, which, in its turn, will please her family and earn her praise, will understand the full meaning of the motto of my School: ‘Bonne cuisine et bonne humeur font bon menage’.”
Many of the recipes are for classic French dishes, which – unlike the presentations in the book’s few black-and-white photos – will never be out of style. There are recipes for sole meunière; poulet au vin blanc; petits pois au madere; gougère au fromage; homard a la thermidor; risotto aux fruits de mer; terrine maison; croquettes de pommes de terre; tarte tatin; and tarte au citron.