Fresh off the back of Kitchen Confidential, with his punk rock chef energy still at its peak, Anthony Bourdain was asked for the three essential cookery books he would recommend to anyone. The first two were unsurprising: Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail Eating and Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook. The third was a little more homely: “Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” he said. “It’s fundamental.”
While there may occasionally be a wide berth given by professional chefs when it comes to home cook staples, the old masters knew what they were talking about – and Constance Spry is a towering figure in the canon of culinary classics, predating Child, Delia Smith and Fanny Craddock. The British author and educator, born in Derby in the late 1800s, wrote this 1,065-page collection of recipes after launching a domestic science school with Rosemary Hume, and it reads with the kind of erudite authority of someone looking to educate as much as they are to excite.
At its time, the book and its French base served a healthy mixture of Escoffier-era classicism and an odd, new and exciting entry to the culinary world from Blighty – Spry and Hume, after all, helped originate coronation chicken for Her Majesty, with this book marking its first foray into print. There are many dishes and techniques worthy of consideration today – a whole host of classic sauces that are re-entering the vogue and a bevy of boulangerie products.
Others are less so – the section on jellied salads, for example – but they are part of an aged text which often delights with its antiquity. Take the entry for avocado pears: “The fruit, a commonplace perhaps in America, that is still a luxury to us”, that can “even be mashed to make a mousse”.
Today, The Constance Spry Cookery Book can work as the long-form version of Le Repertoire de la Cuisine, and while it will always be worth keeping Louis Saulnier’s guidebook in your kitchen, a copy of Spry at home will provide all the details you need to dig into the recipes of yesteryear. We may try to innovate cuisine as much as we like but, as Bourdain did, sometimes you have to pay your dues to the classics.
The Constance Spry Cookery Book by Constance Spry & Rosemary Hume (Grub Street, £30)
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