Thursday, March 08, 2007


I hope readers will bear with me in the little Bristolian tale I am about to tell, for the experience of spending much of my childhood in a library has shaped me, made me the person I am, influenced what I brought to Sicily and still affects my life here:

In 1950s Bristol, UK., my parents ran a newsagent's shop. "Nothing unusual in that", you may say and you would be right. But at the back of our shop was an oblong room with shelves all around and this was "Eggleton's Library". People subscribed to borrow books from it and could browse there for as long as they liked; to many, I believe, it was a haven from the cold, grey, still rationed post-war world outside. Dad, who knew all about books, would order them from far and wide for his customers and they appreciated his knowledge. But the star and doyenne of "Eggleton's Library" was my Great Aunt Mabel [always known as "auntie"] who lived with us. Totally self-educated, she had travelled and been a missionary in Africa and her wide reading would shame many Oxbridge graduates today. Auntie would sit there in what I suppose was a Victorian clerk's black gown, and all the borrowings and returns were recorded in her meticulous hand. So there, dear reader, began "Welshcakes Limoncello Eggleton's" love of books and ever since I have felt safe in a room filled with them. When I go into other houses, whether I am in the sitting room, study, bedroom or kitchen , if there are no books I start wondering, "Where are they?" and I feel uncomfortable. I know I have some Bristolian readers here,here and here and there may be others [sometimes the site meter gives only "UK"]; do any of them remember, or know anyone who remembers "Eggleton's Library" at 110 Stapleton Road?
All this is a preamble to telling you that when I examined the paper in some of Dad's "Tarzan" books [not my kind of reading anyhow though they didn't have the connotations in the 1940s and 50s that they would have today] I realised that it was too damaged and decayed to bring to a hot country. So, with regret, those books had to go but I kept 2 of the labels [above]. I have framed them and they were a source of interest to my Sicilian guests last Thursday. Thus it is that I have a daily reminder of that little library in Bristol, so long ago, in my own well-stocked library in Modica, Sicily. [Some of my Sicilian women friends don't say anything but are probably apppalled at the dust-attracting possibilities of having more than 5,000 books around. I don't care: next to Simi, my books are my most important possessions - and my excuse is that a linguist automatically collects more of them!]
Well, it occurred to me that you might like to see my cookery library. So here is part of it, in the kitchen. I have the books arranged by country / region , rather than author, and the "general" cookery books continue around the corner and into the hallway. In the left-hand bookcase, the top shelf consists of books on French cuisine and my treasured Larousse Gastronomique might well be my "desert island" book choice. Nearly all the rest of that bookcase [which was one of Dad's] until you get to the middle of the bottom shelf, is filled with books on Italian cookery, for this must be the richest country in the world in culinary traditions. I took a separate photo of my Sicilian section, which begins with Mary Taylor Simeti's Sicilian Food, which I believe to be the most authoritative tome on the subject in any language. Next to it you may be able to make out her Bitter Almonds [written with Maria Grammatico] the extraordinary tale of a young girl brought up by the nuns, from whom she learnt the art of Sicilian pastry-cooking. And then there is the excellent Victoria Granof's Sweet Sicily, another wonderful read on this aspect of the island's cuisine . Of course, I am adding to this section all the time and I will soon need Mr G... the carpenter to come and put up more shelves [somewhere!]
The last photo shows my own precious recipe books: they contain many recipes that I have collected from friends here over the years, plus cut-out recipes, all annotated with the magazine title and the date [perhaps I was in the wrong career as a teacher!] and recipes written in my mother's hand. Italian women learn early exactly how much pasta and how much water they need to cook it in for each meal, and, as Granof rightly points out, many of them do not like trying out new recipes as they cook the same traditional food, in the same way, day in, day out. They do not need to look anything up because they will have learned the methods orally from their grandmothers and mothers. But how many young British women, I wonder, will have recipes passed on to them by their mothers these days? Is mine the last generation to enjoy this heritage? I do hope not. What do you think?
When I am in need of comfort I look around my library and remind myself that Mr Eggleton would have been very happy to know that his daughter thanks him, from Sicily, for the love of literature he instilled in her and that Mrs Eggleton would have been delighted that some of her recipes have travelled so far!


Liz Hinds said...

Not bad for a broken finger!

What a fabulous place to grow up in! The library was just down the road from us when I was growing up and my favourite place.

As well as my own books I had to choose for my grandfather: murders and cowboys, I chose by the picture on the cover!

Like you, when I visit a home I am drawn to the books. I love reading people's bookshelves and a home without books is ... a mystery to me.

What a wonderful father to have had. I'm sure your mother would indeed be delighted to know her recipes have travelled with you.

I have a feeling my great-aunt and uncle lived near stapleton. I know they lived in Air Balloon Road (I couldn't forget a name like that!)first and then in flats in St George.

Anonymous said...

That's a lovely story, I envy you. My parents had no interest in literature, though my father loved Dickens and the Bible! I always feel a warm glow come over me when I am in a bookshop, I love holding books and smelling them, and feeling the, it is a very tactile experience for me.

Colin Campbell said...

Coming from a family of teachers, we had books everywhere. I have always liked to have books to hand both at home and at work. I was thinking the other day that almost everything that I read now is electronic. Days spent peering into a computer screen. For the last few years, most of the books that I have read have been for the kids. I notice visiting my kids friends that very few have many books around. Lots of game boys, computers, wide screen televisions all very temporary. Will these be arranged around our houses in twenty years team. A few years ago I went to visit my father in Hereford and there on the shelves were many of the books that I remember from my childhood. I wonder when I will return to reading books regularly.

Lee said...

I, too, have thousands of books, Welsh, and like you I could not live without them. Each I've relocated, the first things I pack are my books and the first things I unpack are my books. Once my books are up in place, I feel at home, then I can settle into the rest of the unpacking. We are so much alike you and I. My nephew paid me a visit today...he lives up in Mackay in North Queensland, many, many miles from where I live and he commented on the amount of books I have. Life would not be life without them.

I dare not count up the amount of dollars I have spent on my cooking books! I would be a rich person today...but I wouldn't be without them. I, too, have "Larousse Gastronomique". A library of cooking/recipe books would not be complete without a copy, in my humble opinion.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. You are a fine story teller. I love to read. It something about holding the book or paper in the hands as opposed to reading it on a monitor.

Sally said...

My mother was a library fanatic and those weekly visits to the library - despite the house being crammed with books - were a highlight. Books remain one of the prime pleasures of life, and the first thing I notice in other people's houses are the books, preferably shelved and stacked in every room. So .........I loved browsing your cookbook shelf and wondered if any of those Sicilian titles has a good recipe for caponata, and if so, if you could bear to share it with us. I have 2 or 3 but they're just not quite right, the best I ever had was somewhere in the Madonie, a lovely family who lived near Piano di Zucchi. Today I'm cooking guinea fowl for dinner, with potatoes roasted in goose fat and a salad of radicchio di Castelfranco - that's the lovely pale one with the red and purple splotches on the leaves that's grown in the Veneto, very bitter. Then cheese, some Wigmore from Neal's Yard, our daughter's around for the weekend so can pander to the demands of her greedy parents!

Whispering Walls said...

What's your number 1 pick for an Italian cookery book? I have the River Cafe books which are good but often wrong about the length of cooking time for cakes.

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

What a lovely collection. I don't have anything like that, but I do have lots and lots of books. Mainly fiction and books about all the latest countries I have visited.

When I go into Oxford I spend most of my time in Waterstones or Borders bookshops. I have had fun getting a collection going for my grandchildren....which they keep here.

Lovely story.

Anonymous said...

And have you really read ALL of them?

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, Liz. Oh, I used to love the pics on the covers in those days! Yes, that's it exactly - a mystery, a bookless home. I don't remember Air Balloon Rd [lovely name!] but I do remember the St George area. Ellee, Dickens and the Bible are an excellent start, are they not?! Yes, touching and smelling books is very sensual. CC, thanks for coming over. I agree - reading a book as a book is very different from reading online and I, too, wonder how long printed books will survive. What pleasure the next generation will lose if they do not! Lee, gosh, we think alike! When the removal men came in Cardiff, I said, "Books packed first, please. If it comes to it, you can leave the furniture" - and I meant it! The LG is such a treasure - I read it like a novel. Thanks, Steve. Yes, holding a book in your hands is so different from reading onscreen.. it activates so many other senses. Sally, I feel the same. If you browse someone's library, you get to know them! I will look out my best caponata recipe and post it soon. How wonderful your meal sounds and oh, Neal's Yard - I am drooling! WW, what a question - a "best " Ital cookery book.. I think it would have to be Marcella Hazan's "Classic Italian Cookbook" and a close second would be "Southern Italian Cookery " by Valentina Harris. Apart from the fish recipes [I am allergic to the stuff] I have cooked every recipe in the latter book and they all work! [I don't think the same author's later books are as good, though.] For pastry cooking, for me Ursula Ferrigno can do no wrong and I recommend her "Italian Cakes and Desserts".

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Anne, thank you. I do miss Waterstone's and Boredres! Ellee, apart from my reference books, which are obviously "dip into books" I can honestly say there are only about 6 books in my library which I have not got around to reading!

Shani said...

I am going off to find out what I can about your library tomorrow...

I can remember creating my own library as a child - for hours and hours on end. This would have been my idea of Heaven.

Thank you so much for sharing..
hugs from Bristol... Shani

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thank you, Shani. It woould be greatif you find out anything. Lots of hugs from Sicily, too.

Ballpoint Wren said...

What an incredible history you have! You need to make up an Eggelton's Library tribute page and put it online somewhere.

I looked up the address, and it is an internet cafe now!

Internet Cafe Name: Dottel
Telephone: 0117-955 8033
Address: 110 Stapleton Rd, Bristol, BS5 0PR

How about that?

We have too many books, if you can believe it! Whenever the cul-de-sac kids needed a book for a book report, their mothers would send them to our house. I guess it was quicker than driving to our local library.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, Bonnie. How amazing that it's an internet café now! That's a good idea about putting a tribute page up.


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