Katie Stewart: Memories of Learning to Cook

Katie Stewart's Gingersnaps

It was with some degree of sadness tinged with nostalgia that I read of the death of Katie Stewart last week.   Like many a child of the 1970s I was brought up on her food, and learnt to cook from her Times Cookery Book, published in 1972.

The Times Cookery Book, or simply “Katie Stewart”, as it was known, was my mother’s kitchen bible; published by Pan, a thick paperback with too many pages to be practical, or lie flat on the counter (it used to be propped open under the blue Salter kitchen scales).  My mother remembers that she bought it with some money that Cousin Jack (a distant relation on my father’s side) had given her.

Katie Stewart's Complete Cookbook

When I went to university it seemed natural that a reprint of a Katie Stewart went with me.

The book was annotated, and filled with cuttings from Katie’s regular columns in The Times.   It dispensed no-nonsense advice and well written fool-proof recipes.  For many it was their first taste of foreign foods; Vichyssiose and Greek egg & lemon soup sit next to oxtail.  Mille feuille is nestled alongside an apple & blackberry pie. We are reassured that a pear & grape salad, although unusual, is delicious and originated in America where it is very popular.

I am comforted by the beef and prune casserole, marmalade, pineapple meringue and the chocolate fudge pudding – a regular fixture for Saturday supper (I could still remember the page number it was on more than 20 years after leaving home for university).  I am struck by the number of recipes, several to a page.  No wonder everyone had fewer cookbooks in those days – they all contained so many more recipes and few photos, if any at all.

Leafing through the index I notice lots of absent ingredients; items that I use all the time; soy sauce, miso, quinoa, buckwheat and couscous.  There is no mention of pasta in the index, although there are two recipes for spaghetti. I suppose it is not surprising, in the 1970s olive oil was largely medicinal and bought in tiny bottles from the chemist.  I am struck by just how much our diet has changed, the exotic is now the common place, the food of over 30 years ago dated and disregarded.

Katie Stewart's Gingersnaps

It seemed natural that when I went to university a reprint of a Katie Stewart came with me.  My favourite recipe ever is the gingersnaps, the first biscuits I made by myself, which I recreated at the weekend. They are easy to make, simply pour a mix of melted butter, syrup and sugar into a bowl of flour, ginger and bicarb of soda, mix and bake.  They are also an exact replica of the Macvities gingernuts, but all the better for being made from scratch.

Having forgotten about my Katie Stewart for a great many years I think I’ll be getting the books out again, and reliving some culinary memories, then rejoice anew in the wealth of ingredients available to me in 2013.   I think Katie would approve.

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  1. Ang says

    I love to look through my old school home economics books and agree that food was so much simpler back then. Lovely tribute to Katie Stewart and your photos are fab.

    • says

      I love the old books, it seems that they writers worked harder too, although possibly writing was better paid as there were no photography expenses?
      Thank you for the lovely comment about my photos, it means a lot, especially coming from someone who takes such excellent ones.

  2. Janice says

    I never had a Katie Stewart book, but do have a cutting from the paper for pickled cucumbers which I’ve made lots of times but not recently.

    • says

      You would need a mortgage to get one now Janice. They are going for about £80 on Amazon! I have three and a recipe calendar. We should all have a KS cookalong!

  3. says

    Helen what a wonderful post. Katie Stewart was an inspiring cook. Like you I have a recipe book, my mother has the rest and I haven’t looked at it for years. I would love to join a tribute cook along.

  4. says

    What a wonderful post dedicated to a talented cook & food writer. I do have a book of hers which I picked up on a charity store hunt but in our house we were more fans of Robert Carrier who I still love to this day. I shall see if that ginger biscuit is in the book I have. And also am enjoying your new photos, they look brill x

  5. Jane says

    Could we nail on the head once and for all the idea that food in the early seventies was from the stone age. I bought olive oil in gallon cans, Italian, Spanish, Greek and French ( I still have the empty ones to prove it ) and used it in all my cooking. Writers like Caroline Conran, Robert Carrier and Arabella Boxer inspired us to cook all kinds of food, especially French. After all we used Le Creuset pans and terracotta casseroles from Habitat and the Elizabeth David cook shop. Katie Stewart’s recipes were wonderful but very much for everyday with their homely and traditional feel and the lovely Scottish tinge which came out in her baking recipes especially. I have two of her Times recipe books and the calendars which were produced annually. They suited a country cook which I was, in the days when ingredients were much more seasonal than they are now.

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