Bitsy Books

Though Michelle Huneven's piece on little cookbooks ("Small Packages," Nov. 30) came off a little sour-sounding, I tend to agree that these are not particularly useful books--usually on the gimmicky side and tremendously overpriced.

Although English cookbooks need a lot of explanation and translation for American cooks who haven't been there, I was surprised that she was puzzled by some of the terms. I'm not British, but having traveled there (and to France), I do know that:

* Caster sugar is granulated sugar--specifically what we call dessert or superfine sugar. Caster refers to the shaker (usually crystal with a perforated silver top, like an oversized salt shaker) used to serve this sugar on the table, where it is shaken over berries, fruits, etc.

* Ground rice is usually rice ground in a blender, although it can also refer to rice flour. Real ground rice has more texture than rice flour, so it gives a crisper coating when used in breading batters, etc.

* Jelly is the name for all gelatine-based mixtures. A "packet of tangerine jelly" would be like a package of our fruit-flavored Jell-O.

* Ogen melon is a sweet, white-fleshed cantaloupe from Provence.

* Angelica leaves are probably the preserved and candied leaves (and stems) of the angelica plant, often used in candy making and in decoration with things like preserved violets.

* Pine kernels are undoubtedly what we call pine nuts. The British are very precise in their terms; to them, a "nut" is the whole thing, shell and all.

* Salad cream seasoning sounds like an oxymoron to me. Salad cream is a very bland creamy white dressing that is used throughout the United Kingdom, poured over or into salads. It seems devoid of seasoning.

I must admit that "chow chow that can be peeled" really throws me. Unlike our chow chow, which is a chunky vegetable pickle in a mustard-type sauce, English chow chow is usually a chunky relish, made with various fruits but always including ginger root.

Huneven mentioned the cooking pamphlets her mother had in the '50s, most of which were limited to a single subject. These actually go back further than that--the earliest I have were put out by the Royal Baking Powder Co., full of great baking recipes, in an effort to swing homemakers over to their product. Cooks previously used the raw ingredients that make up baking powder. They also used their own baking recipes, most of which were in their heads.

I still have my meat pamphlet, and it remains the single best reference for meat-cooking information in my kitchen. As I recall, these '50s pamphlets were sold in markets (very cheaply, and a new subject every week) as an enticement to shop.

The mini-cookbooks Huneven reviewed, with their hard covers and glitzy photographs, are a far reach from those terrific information-packed pamphlets.

--BETSY BYERS, Pasadena

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