Tuesday, 11 October 2011

My collection

When I was prompted to think about this, I thought I was averse to collections and collecting. This goes back to when I was about 10 or 11 and my mum was friends with a local hairdresser who I sometimes "babysat" for. (I'd be upstairs in their flat, watching her daughter, whilst she was downstairs in her salon.) She was a strange personality, and quite snobbish - which is some going for a hairdresser who lived above her shop. When she gave me this book - I can't remember the occasion - she told me, "I want to see something good out of this." My mind froze as to what I might collect but the book was pretty. I never started a collection. At home, a terraced house lived in by 6 people, there just wasn't the space to collect things endlessly, certainly not of any size. I may have dabbled in stamps at one stage almost as a rite of passage, but I could never say I actually collected anything. Mary would probably have not been best pleased but I'm not sure I cared.

I still don't go out of my way to start a collection. I sometimes have a slightly obsessive quality and a need to complete certain things. For example, we were in Barcelona a few years ago and sitting in our favourite coffee place, we discovered it was a chain with about 7 branches. Cue us finding - and visiting - the remaining 6 during our stay. A lot of coffee and flapjack was consumed that holiday.

But a collection, I thought. What do I collect? Nothing. Then, as I stood in the kitchen pondering this very point, I looked up and really saw what was in front of me. There, on the windowsill, and that's just the overspill from the already full cupboard. And the overspill is bigger than the main "collection." Cookery books. I must get a few new ones each year and if I don't buy them, people buy them for me. I try to contain it, but still, it grows slowly, creeping across my kitchen windowsill. Every style of cuisine is represented, every level of difficulty. Books from popular television series, booklets from food magazines, books on feeding children, books that are new to me, and some that I've treasured for a long, long time. I even have two copies of my favourite vegetarian cookery book because I used one so much, it fell apart.

Some of them are spattered with the scars of just being in my kitchen, for I am a messy cook and every time I cook, it's a major operation to make it barely presentable again. Some, sadly, are pristine. Television is to blame for this - sometimes, they promise more than they deliver and one has proved to be in conflict with the Trades Descriptions Act as it most decidedly NOT made easy. Another that I used to have, the recipes ran to pages and just as you think you've got to the end, there's a whole section on "How to finish the dish". So elaborate, so not me. It still took me a while to get rid of it. Perhaps it's from guilt, as it was a present. Needless to say, it wasn't a Delia, a Nigella, a Nigel or a Jamie. They're all in my collection and ones I come back to time and again. And it shows. One of my Delia "How To" books is now hidden in the cupboard because I left it out on the windowsill for so long, open at the tortilla recipe page, that the dustjacket faded to the point that the cover picture, already not particularly colourful, has become almost monochrome.

I dare not count how many I have. I am not the sort that records my collection in detail. I sometimes go to look for a recipe, only to figure out that I have given away the book in which it was featured. This is why I don't like to get rid of books - sometimes, books have just the one killer recipe that makes it invaluable. I have the back up of the internet these days but being as I am that messy cook, books are so much better; they can be wiped and the words will remain, if somewhat stained. I could ruin a computer checking a recipe with hands covered with the detritus of my cooking.

No, a cookery book has permanence and promises a glimpse into other people's lifestyles through the things they like to cook. I bore easily when it comes to food and cooking and so I'm always looking for something new to cook, even if it's just a new twist on a favourite. As far as I'm concerned, there can never be too many recipes in the world, and therefore, never too many cookery books.

And that is why they are my thing, my passion. They are what I collect.

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