The situation had become out of control. Food magazines going back decades had not only taken over an entire bookcase – real literature rel- egated to a smaller one where the books bulged uncomfortably together – but were teetering in towers on the floor at its feet. I have in an earlier column confessed to my inability to ruthlessly dis- pose of these publications – as if trapped within their damply mildewed pages lies the elusive recipe, or the answer to some culinary riddle. As if one day will spread before me uncluttered time when I just might be interested enough to see what was being cooked and eaten in 1992. As if their historical, cultural and sociological signifi- cance will assist me in my next book. These are merely some of the justifications for amassing and clinging to grimly, when every other sensible woman would simply assign the entire collection – save possibly the last twelve months’ worth – to the next council clear-up.
When I had recently finished reading the latest ‘Gourmet Traveller’ and accepted that there was no room for it to be filed away I knew the time had come. Even then, my solution was a pinched and cautious compromise – even then I had to make absolutely sure that I wasn’t being profligate, or running the risk of losing something of utmost importance. The system I devised was to begin at the beginning and, working with ten issues at a time, make my way briskly through the indexes of each to see if there was one single recipe deemed salvable. (The criterion for salvable concerned whether the recipe was one I might conceivably one day try; whether it was still pertinent, relevant, feasible in 2010). And off I went, one rare week night when I had nothing more pressing to do only to realise that the discipline of confining myself to just the one recipe per issue was robbing me of any pleasure I might otherwise have in the exercise. There were some issues wherein I could not find one single worthy extraction; oth- ers where there were several. The system needed to be revised so that I could extract as many as I wanted.
This exercise, which has now attained the loftier title of Project with a capital P, is going to take me at least a year though probably several decades, assuming I have the patience to stick at it.It is not an unenjoyable way to spend an hour or two, especially if accompanied by several glasses of wine and regarded in the nature of a pre-dinner appetiser – although the wine component can be a danger, resulting in either an abandonment of the recipe-searching as I become sidetracked by articles with titles like Vivaldi’s Venice, Dashing Desserts or Souffles: Easier Than You Think – or the recklessly indiscriminate decision to snip out nearly every single recipe. Here I am only up to January 1993, one month into the Project, with a mere 40 battered old magazines pillaged and dispensed with and at least 4000 to go, so I may need to re-assess the whole thing if I don’t get a move on. Amongst the recipes I have so far salvaged – in their own separate bag on a corner of my dining table increasingly acquiring the same aura of encroaching junk as the bookcase itself – I have Golden Parsnip Cake; Devilled Pecans; Chilled Berry Icecream Souffles and Zucchini Bread and while I am contemplating the next step, which is painstakingly pasting them into yet an- other unnecessary home-made recipe book, I am also wondering if I will then take it to the third and final step and make them! I probably never will – but for now will persist in the belief that one day I will, and someone will say – That was the best Golden Parsnip Cake I have ever eaten in my life!