Monday, April 30, 2007

Dusty Wesker's Cookery Book

Being a somewhat nosey person by nature, I enjoy reading blogs. In those sad, dark days before the invention of blogs I used to love to curl up (by the light of my oil lamp) with a copy what we old timers used to call a diary or a collection of published letters. This book is the old fashioned equivalent of a ‘recipe blog’: a diary of food cooked, meals eaten, together with recipes. It has an added bonus for anyone interested in modern theatre. The author, Dusty Wesker, is the wife of Arnold Wesker – a man widely regarded as one of the most influential playwrights of the last century (which makes him sound as though he should be in a marble tomb somewhere).

The meals are those she cooked not just for family but for first nights, agents and directors, journalists and actors. Anecdotes abound. I think she did intend to give an honest glimpse of home life with a famous playwright (as honest as one ever can be when writing about home life for a wider audience). The portrait she paints is of a loving exuberant relationship, a family home filled with comings and goings and encounters with interesting, artistic people. She comes across as a genuinely warm and friendly person, he as somewhat mercurial (read: moody and self absorbed).

According to, after 35 years of marriage he had an affair with an ‘old friend’ and instead of cramming him into her Magimix and making ‘Meatballs with a Sweet and Sour Mushroom Sauce’ (page 33) they separated ‘amicably’. It is unlikely then that there will be a sequel to this volume, which is a great shame as I do love it so. Dusty Wesker is not a professional chef or food writer so the recipes are those she actually loves and cooks herself, in an ordinary kitchen without a battery of staff to help her. They are friendly recipes. I’ve tried lots of them and have never had one fail. Influenced by Jewish, Mediterranean and East European cookery, they rarely require exotic or particularly expensive ingredients. The cakes and puddings are especially yummy. Three to try are the Rum Chocolate Mousse (foolproof even without the rum), Lemon Souffle (made with a packet of lemon jelly) and her Marmalade Cake (a really good ‘keeping cake’, delicious eaten with butter and some cheese).

I bought my copy as a birthday treat many years ago. I had already borrowed it from the library and copied out recipes to try. It came from Books For Cooks in Notting Hill, surely one of the nicest shops in London. It is out of print now, alas, but copies are available via Amazon Marketplace and Addall. Highly recommended: for the nosey and the greedy.

Marmalade Cake

6oz/ 175g butter
6oz/175g sugar
3 eggs (separated)
2oz/50g chopped mixed peel
Grated rind of 1 orange
3 tablespoons chunky marmalade
10oz/275g self-raising flour
5 tablespoons water

Butter an 8 inch/20 cm cake tin. Cream butter and sugar. Add egg yolks, mixed peel, orange rind and marmalade. Fold in flour. Gradually work in water. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold in. Bake at 190c/375f/ gas mark 5 for about 45 minutes and until knife comes out clean.

Note: I usually omit the mixed peel because I rarely have it about and don’t bother separating the eggs – it makes the cake a bit denser but saves time. I also usually bake it in a loaf tin because it is easier to cut and spread with butter that way. Be generous with your spoonfuls of marmalade.

No comments: