I've just been sorting out my collection of books on food and wine. I never intentionally set out to collect this sort of thing; but being a second-hand bookshop junkie, have, over the years, amassed a wide assortment of interesting old books on all sorts of different subjects. Above is a first edition of Michael Smith's Fine English Cookery, published in 1973. And how things have changed! Michael Smith, for example, tells us how to make a traditional kedgeree using tinned salmon. And that's what's interesting about these fascinating old books. Who today would make Bon Viveur's blue-dyed egg canapes, with anchovy garnish, and lover-ly piped mashed potato?
The internet has had a beneficial knock-on effect on the price of some of these books, and it's now easy to get online, and discover just how much that old dog-eared copy might actually be worth. Take Floyd's Food, for example. I've got a slightly grubby copy of it, much used over the years, and stained with the shipwreck of time. But it's rather valuable. This was one of the very early Keith Floyd books, published in a tiny print run by a local Bristol publisher just before "Floyd on France" made him famous. For Floyd "completists", that's the hard one to track down. The first edition of Marco Pierre White's White Heat is another sought after title.
I'm currently looking out for cookery books published in the pre-war era. They're the sort of thing which you used to be able to find relatively easily, but now are becoming increasingly scarce. Books from the 60's and 70's are still available- and could be a good area for starting a collection. They're also fun- and often have great graphics. One of these is The Bachelor Chef. Written by the elusive "Simon Tiffany", and published by Arlington Books of St James's in 1965, it's full of dodgy recipes involving cans of this, and cans of that; a self-help manual for wannabe playboys, and international men of mystery. Lots of hilariously kitsch drawings too, in the manner of the late Stephen Ward.