They didn’t have my fire
- The Settler’s Cookbook: A Memoir of Love, Migration and Food by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
Portobello, 439 pp, £20.00, March 2009, ISBN 978 1 84627 083 3
‘I went into a milk-house; they brought me some cream-cheese curds and whey, and two slices of that excellent Piedmont bread, which I prefer to any other; and for five or six sous I had one of the most delicious meals I ever recollect to have made.’ Thus Rousseau in his Confessions, where he also writes about his liking for pears, his fear of pastry shops, his fondness for starting the day with milky coffee and his preference for simple, ‘rustic repasts’: ‘give me milk, vegetables, eggs and brown bread, with tolerable wine and I shall always think myself sumptuously regaled.’
Vol. 31 No. 14 · 23 July 2009
‘A life history in which the stomach is wholly absent,’ Bee Wilson writes, ‘does not seem quite human’ (LRB, 25 June). She is understandably charmed by Rousseau’s spilling his guts in public, but says of John Stuart Mill: ‘you would never know whether [he] ever yearned for sweets or felt his tummy rumble.’ Mill’s Autobiography, despite its title, is not and does not purport to be a life history. Still, his stomach seems to have made noises – especially for butter, the availability and quality of which Mill assiduously reports in a string of letters to Harriet Mill from France, Italy and Greece. Some butter is ‘tolerable & intensely yellow’, whereas in Brittany he ‘never once met with any but very good butter even in the smallest places’. In Vendée ‘it is seldom good & I have never yet found it very good.’ He also had to put up with ‘commonplace’ honey which ‘had not the peculiar flavour of Syracusan’ (Syracusan butter too was apparently excellent).