The Pedant in the Kitchen

Pedant_150x205.jpgMy beloved, loving, and never at all snarky mother gave me this book a couple of years ago, for my birthday I think. I was a little miffed at the time, although that didn’t stop me enjoying it. I’ve just re-read it, and once again I really appreciated it. In fact, I think I got more out of it on this read-through.

Barnes describes himself as a pedant because he will never be one of those breezy “oh, I never use a recipe” type cooks; he uses recipes, he sticks to recipes, and he gets incensed when, for example, a recipe has step 1, step 2, and step 4. He loathes being told to use a lump or a gout of some ingredient. By this measure I am absolutely, almost irredeemably, a kitchen pedant. And I’m ok with that. I know that I will never really be a kitchen experimenter. I can make a meal without a recipe but only if it’s very standard meat and veg, or some vague pasta sauce. Barnes reassures me that there are other people like me out there, and we’re ok. We’re really ok.

This book is funny. Like laugh out loud sometimes funny. But possibly only to other pedants. And possibly if non-pedants laughed, I would feel a bit offended; we only get to laugh when it’s laughing at us, right? So only a pedant really appreciates the frustration inherent in figuring out the differences between chopping and slicing an onion (and does it make a difference?) or the frustration of not being to fit two pork chops and four chicory halves into one pan.

But there’s also a wonderful degree of comfort and reassurance in Barnes’ writing, for someone like me who stresses and overthinks things. When asked how many cookbooks you have, do you say

a) not enough,

b) just the right number, or

c) too many?

Barnes points out that if you answered b) you’re either lying or have no interest in food… or, most frighteningly, you’ve worked everything out perfectly. Maximum points are scored for answering both a) and c), which is exactly what I would have said. His description of trying to deal with That Drawer (Cupboard, Shelf, whatever) – what to throw out, what to keep, what’s your criteria? – is both funny and exactly how I feel; and his lament and reassurance that no one (not even Elizabeth David) ever has the perfect kitchen is a delight.

This is a delightful little book, and I love it. Only for the pedant, though. Available from Fishpond.