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Sober Life
by Sinclair Newton



Sober Life

I once brought a copy of Elizabeth David's book about Mediterranean food to Ibiza and gave it to two ex-Blackpool landladies who shared an apartment and rented me their other one.

They specialised in doing buffets for ex-pats and the highlight of their culinary wisdom was to serve up cold Heinz beans in The Londoner.

Quite what they made of the founder of Domestic Goddestry I cannot imagine, but at least they liked the lap dancing ex-wife and I even took them for a seafood dinner at Rias Baíxas in San Antonio which I see has been all done up. With any luck, the entire Ibiza History Culture team is going there next week and I imagine some poor lobster is swimming towards the island right now and doesn't realise we'll be eating her come Thursday.

I missed the book some years later and couldn't remember what I had done with it for ages, so it came as a great pleasure to me to see that there's a new one out, called "Is There a Nutmeg in the House," which is described on the Penguin paperback cover as a sequel to "An Omelette and a Glass of Wine."

I used to have that book, too and cannot remember to whom I must have given it, but no doubt it's in some finca up a mountain somewhere in Ibiza.

Meanwhile, I've been devouring the nutmeg chronicles.

Now you have to understand that it feels to me as though Elizabeth David died years before Delia Smith was a twinkle in anybody's eye and started praising food from the nether regions of the Med before even I was born.

That's why the line on the lovely blue cover sporting two quinces reads: "The best food book I have read in ten years," which is allegedly from someone on the Spectator.

I clearly have to come up with a one-liner here to replace that for the reprint. Here goes: "This is the finest food writing from beyond the grave I have ever seen."

That should keep the press office at Penguin at bay, though I don't think it compares with Paul Levy who has written: "Elizabeth David was the original domestic goddess... her descriptions can be mouth-watering. She was a woman of intellect, passion, and - when she chose to turn it on - charm. Those traits are evident in this collection."

It is an anthology of her occasional writing, rather like the Sober Life column on Ibiza History Culture, really. But she had already published nine books and it is astonishing that there were 150 unpublished recipes remaining.

I suppose that if you scrabbled about in my kitchen you might find the occasional culinary novelette here and there. But you wouldn't find anything like the vignettes in this fabulous yet posthumous collection.

Here's one for fresh tomato sauce, which would be perfect to accompany an Ibicencan barbecue.

1kg of ripe tomatoes, 30g butter, salt, sugar and (dried) basil (these days it would have been fresh from any supermarket) and, optionally, a tablespoon of port. I'll pass on that.

Chop the tomatoes and put them in a wide, shallow pan in which the butter is melting. Add a teaspoon each of salt, sugar and dried basil. Cook over a moderate heat until most of the moisture from the tomatoes has evaporated. Sieve, and return the resulting puree to the cleaned pan. Reheat, and - just before serving - add the port. Or not, as the sober case may be. She does say it is not essential, but has a softening and mellowing effect on the sauce.

Then she says: "Made in this simple fashion, without the thickening of flour so often and so mistakenly recommended by professional cooks and cookery teachers, tomato sauce is delicious, fresh, appetising in colour and of the correct consistence. It is the perfect food with fried food such as potato croquettes and fish cakes; good with grilled fish such as mackerel and grey mullet; and combined in various ways with eggs, cream and cheese makes some of the most delicious and attractive dishes ever invented."

That simple receipt remained unpublished since the 1960s until Jill Norman, an author in her own right (She's just done The New Penguin Cookery Book) became her literary executor having been her good friend and compiled this lot. Thanks, Jill.

Not long ago there was an auction of Elizabeth David's kitchen paraphernalia and I saw that someone paid £100 for one of her old wooden spoons. I think it was a bargain and if it were mine I would give it to the chef at Rias Baíxas.

Sinclair Newton