Food Matters: Discovering Elizabeth David
September 21, 2009
Matt McAllester’s happy childhood was cut short by his mother’s mental illness. Upon her death McAllester is able to explore his mother’s history and, through her collection of cookbooks, discover the woman he thought he had lost forever. In his memoir Bittersweet, this Pulitzer Prize winner and former foreign correspondent lets readers into the painful, yet delicious process of cooking his way through his mother’s copies of Elizabeth David and other books. The following excerpt finds McAllester sorting through his mother’s books with his sister. Finally, months after the process of dividing up the spoils of death had begun, we sat on the floor going through the last of it. Family diamonds and pearl pins were laid out messily in a tan jewel case; some photographs of a beautiful young woman in the mid-1960s, posing for her photographer husband, my father; compact discs that I had given her and was now taking back. All that was left to divide up between us now were her books. We each kept some art books, some novels, some poetry, some history. We put others aside for the charity shop. My sister took the gardening books. I didn’t care much about flowers and vegetables. “Can I have the cookbooks, then?” I asked my sister. “Sure, but can I keep French Country Cooking?” she said. “It was Elizabeth David’s first book.” And therefore, we both understood, our mother’s most precious cookbook. Continue reading Bittersweet >>> Matt McAllester’s mother used to make these drop scones (we know them as pancakes) when he was a young boy. Drop Scones I found this recipe in Theodora FitzGibbon’s A Taste of Scotland, another of my mother’s cookbooks. You don’t need a griddle, really. A large, heavy frying pan will do. For two dozen little pancakes, mix up four cups of self-rising flour, three heaped tablespoons of sugar, a pinch of salt, and two tablespoons of warmed golden syrup. Then add half a pint of milk or buttermilk and two beaten eggs. Mix everything together until you have a smooth batter. Heat a griddle or pan hot enough to make a drop of water dance, butter lightly, and start spooning out the batter onto the hot surface. Flip the scones over when they begin to bubble. These are best eaten immediately, hot and delicious, spread with butter and honey. So it’s best to call people into the kitchen either just before or while you’re making the drop scones.