While coughing and sniffling and spluttering my way through the day - with the same cold I had more than a week ago in Bendigo - I've been sorting and packing my books, trying to decide which ones to keep and which ones I can do without.
I came to my shelf of cookbooks. There were two books where the decision was very easy. There's just no way I could do without them.
Elizabeth David's Italian Food and Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. They're both old Penguin publications whose covers have come adrift and whose pages long ago lost contact with the books' spines. They're stained by food and age and I have to regularly reorder the pages of Italian Food.
I'm not sure exactly when I acquired Italian Food. I think around 1970, though I'd had Mediterranean Cooking some years earlier. As she did for many women my age, Elizabeth David opened new worlds of food for me. I still love and use her recipes. They're very non-prescriptive; but somehow they convey the spirit of the recipe so well that they work. She writes like an angel, and even if you had no desire to use her recipes you could read her books to capture the spirit of place even better than most travel writing. I have a book of her food writing and essays, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, that gives me so much pleasure I reread it from time to time. I also have a beautifully illustrated 1990s edition of Italian Food, but I don't think I could ever use it to cook from. I'd be lost without hunting thorough the tattered pages of my Penguin edition and cursing the missing page from the index of recipes.
I discovered Julia Child a little later - maybe in the mid 1970s. Her cook books are at the other end of prescriptiveness from Elizabeth David's. Every step and sequence is minutely described - for example, she has a very simple recipe for poached chicken with vegetables that I use frequently that, despite its simplicity, runs over four pages. Her book is truly the ultimate cook book for beginners, or for those days when you want assurance that your recipe is going to work.
I hope I'm not as easily distracted from my packing again or it will never get finished.