Book review: “Clarissa’s Comfort Food”

Her autobiography and several other of her books stand in my bookcase. This one was new to me and its price was nice. Moreover: who can resist comfort food? A whole cookery book full of it!

So: plenty excuses to buy Clarissa Dickson Wright’s “Comfort Food” and it certainly is no coffee table book. It actually lies somewhere on the dining table. Anybody tucking into breakfast, lunch, having a cuppa, or dinner – can tuck into it as well.

All the “Fat Ladies” books stand in the kitchen, as my problem with them is, that practically all recipes are too complicated. These books are more like fond mementoes of both Ladies and their fabulous tv-series.

Clarissa book“Clarissa’s Comfort Food” is the opposite. It does contain complicated recipes, but the majority are manageable to downright fool-proof. Quite a few are simply irresistible. These are now on the family’s favourites list.

What is so very reassuring is the full dedication: “To Sonic – always comforting and ready to eat the mistakes.” Like me, you’re now wondering: Who is Sonic? Some dishy male? A caring and beloved friend? A trustworthy supplier of ingredients or kitchen equipment? Turned out, Sonic was Clarissa’s dog.

As for the book: the comfort food is divided over ten chapters, with an introduction and index. Page 160 also contains a handy conversion chart. Nearly all recipes are English and include traditional ones like Shepherd’s Pie and Cornish Pasties. But there are also Fuzdah’s Eggs, Cretan Rabbit Pie, Puntarella with Bagna Calda, Zampona, Eels in Herbs Brussels-Style, and a few more.

I’m not into zampona, or eels. But like many of the recipes, the eels-one not only has clear instructions. It lists an accompanying anecdote. I laughed myself silly reading it, as I am familiar with the “place” where Clarissa preferred to eat her Eels Brussels-Style: the Galeries Royales in Brussels. Clarissa states that despite decades rolling by, the recipe and everything else at the restaurant remains the same.

So far, my experiences with folks in Brussels have been extremely positive. But then: Clarissa’s restaurant is way too upmarket and expensive for me.

Of course, this book not only contains rich food. It is richly illustrated. Lisa Linder took the photos. No idea how she did it without tucking into all these delicious dishes. One photo is missing though; or rather two. There is a pic of Clarissa on the back cover of the paperback-version. But none of ms Linder and Clarissa’s greatest fan: Sonic.

Despite this disappointment, I am immensely grateful to the publishers. They ensured the important bits of each recipe were printed in large, black letters on a white background. Stupid remark?

I recently kept revisiting another bookshop to have a look at another cookery book. It contained fool-proof recipes by Ms Rosemary Shrager. In the end, I decided against buying it. The recipes were printed in light pastel colours on white paper. In the harsh light of the bookshop it was already difficult to read them. Imagine being in your kitchen,, facing a crucial moment or even an emergency and having to quickly check a recipe – only to find you can’t read it.

This will not happen while using “Clarissa’s Comfort Food”. Everything is clearly described with not much room for disaster, though this will disappoint your very own Sonic. The only problem I encountered – as with other cookery books: some ingredients are simply not available all over the world. But the internet might offer solutions.

A few of the favourite recipes include Cretan Rabbit Pie, Pommes Clarissa, Potato Cake with Ham and Cheese, Kippers and Caper Pie and the delicious and firm favourite: Mirrored Eggs (Oeufs Miroir).

Clarissa book 2Other recipes still need to be tried and tested: Chocolate Bakewell Pudding, Fig Sly Cake, Marmalade Butter Pudding, Apple Jalousie, Venison Schnitzel – oh dear. Just browsing through the chapters Breakfast; Soups, Starters; Salads; Noodles, Pasta & Rice; Fish; Meat; Poultry & Game; Vegetables; Pudding & Baking – makes one’s mouth water (apart from the few kidney, eel, trotter recipes).

My copy was bought at a discount bookshop full of English books opposite the Munt Tower, at the end of the Kalverstraat in Amsterdam. Even if they have run out of copies, there are plenty more interesting books at reasonable prices to remind you of your Amsterdam visit.

“Clarissa ‘s Comfort Food”, Clarissa Dickson Wright, Kyle Books, 2008, paperback ed. pp 161.

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