Angela Clutton reflects on the latest gathering of the Cookbook Club which this month saw a special summer party gathering in the Market Hall, with food from Claudia Roden’s A Book of Middle Eastern Food
Images: Adrian Pope
One of the highlights for me of our Borough Market Cookbook Club summer party came right at its end. Definitely not because it was over. But because I looked over and saw Claudia Roden standing by the blackboard we’d set up for members to write comments on about the all the dishes they’d brought along. Every single one was from Claudia’s A Book of Middle Eastern Food and there Claudia was, quietly taking in what the members thought as they cooked, tasted, and shared these recipes of hers.
It was a fabulous menu that so many members contributed to, and thanks to the blackboard we had some great feedback on it. From the megadarra of caramelised onions with lentils (“I felt the need to eat an entire bowl of it” and “Lentils are sexy!”), to stuffed vine leaves (“So, so much fun to make!”), the kahk crisp bread ‘bracelets’ (“Brought back memories of my mum’s kahk”), and the “best baklava of my life”. Lots of people were loving the mint, sugar and vinegar soft drink I made. While I am flattered anyone thought the recipe was mine, I have to admit that it was actually Claudia’s sekanjabin.
Our feast was in celebration of the 50th year since the cookbook was first published, making it all the more special not just that Claudia was there and wanted to join in—as did her daughter and grandchildren, who cooked dishes for the feast too—but that she spoke to us about her own food experiences, through this book and over the decades.
Claudia explained to us how the nature of some dishes has changed over the years as tastes have changed, for example with the tabbouleh, the balance of ingredients is now commonly less bulgur, more herbs—a choice backed up on the blackboard: “I was worried about using too many herbs and reduced slightly. Next time I will use the full amount!” Claudia talked to us about how much she has seen British food improve since she first arrived in the UK, and there is no doubting she’s been among the food writers who played a big part in that happening—even if that compliment was batted away by Claudia with characteristic humility.
I know just how much Claudia was struck by the camaraderie and joy of sharing food and food experiences as we do at the Cookbook Club. Whether it’s 15 members at the ‘normal’ events, or more than 100 as at these larger ones, what rings true is the fun and simplicity of connecting over food. Thank you to all who got in touch afterwards to tell me about friendships that have been made through the Borough Market Cookbook Club, and the various small pockets of get-togethers being arranged.
The whole thing is possibly best summed up by one of our members who had this to say afterwards: “Sometimes people ask me if there is a sense of community when you live in a big city like London. Yes, there is—wonderful people brought together by a shared love of food, through the Borough Market Cookbook Club.” Job done.
25th / 29th September: Eat Happy by Melissa Hemsley
16th / 23rd October The Borough Market Cookbook by Ed Smith
13th / 17th November: Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol I & II by Julia Child and Simon Beck (Vol I also Louisette Bertholle)