I was a foodie before it became fashionable in the 1980s. I think it was in 1973 that I had my epiphany and realised that I didn’t have to eat the traditional Scottish diet of deep-fried food, overcooked meat and vegetables and (worst of all) NO garlic. I was a postgraduate student in St Andrews at the time and two things sparked my interest – a fantastic deli called Geddes (long gone) which sold all manner of foods I’d never seen before and two friends – Bill McKerracher and Danny Garrad – who were the first men I’d met who could cook. Sadly, both Bill and Danny died young – I miss them and our competitive cooking sessions.
It was Bill who had a copy of Robert Carrier’s ‘Great Dishes of the World’ and it was the first cookbook I bought, for the princely sum of 95 pence. I still have it – very battered and tatty – and I still enjoy reading the recipes.
In those days, Carrier made everything sound exotic with references to sophisticated restaurants in far-away places. Like Elizabeth David, his descriptions made you want to cook and eat but he didn’t have David’s earnestness and rather schoolmarm manner.
The book, as the name implies, is a selection of recipes from around the world – there’s no waffle with the recipes – just a list of ingredients and instructions for intelligent people (i.e. not ridiculously detailed). I remember that the first dish I cooked from it was Caribbean Lamb – essentially a lamb curry – but served with fried bananas and I was delighted that I could have cooked something that tasted so good.
Of course, it now seems rather old-fashioned – far too much butter and cream – and it sometimes suggests tinned ingredients such as peppers simply because fresh ones were unavailable. But like all recipe books, you can use it as an inspiration and modify the recipes accordingly. It’s easy to browse and, unlike many modern books, it’s about the recipes and isn’t cluttered with stories about the author’s life. My favourite recipe is for Bauernschmaus – 3 different kinds of pork with sauerkraut and dumplings – wonderful earthy flavours.
I think if I was only to have one cookbook, it would be hard to chose between this and one of Nigel Slater’s. I don’t think that ‘Great Dishes’ is still in print but if you see a used copy, don’t hesitate – buy it.