At the moment I am reading a book called The Kitchen. It’s been reissued with another book by the same author, Nicolas Freeling, as a two-volume compilation called The Kitchen and The Cook. Both books were written in the ’70s, and are memoirs of the author’s experiences working as a cook decades before. I’m reading it as slowly as I can, because it is a book to savor.
One of the early passages in The Kitchen caught my eye, where the author describes the hands of a cook:
Even without cuts a cook’s hands are unmistakable. The fingertips are flattened and ironed by the touch of hot silver dishes and copper serving pans [….] the side of the forefinger becomes corrugated by the peeler, and the ball of one’s thumb ploughed by a mass of tiny cuts that have not severed the tough skin. [……]
Last mark, but characteristic, of a cook’s hands was the chopping mark. He holds the heavy chopping knife in a kind of golfer’s grip, thumb and forefinger forked over the join between the knife’s blade and its base: as with the golfer this gives precision of force and direction. At each blow the knife, flattened and squared at this point, jmps against the hand and the cook acquires a heavy callus at the base of his forefinger which would have puzzled Sherlock Holmes, who knew no cooks.
I checked my own hands. I don’t have a corrugated forefinger since I use one of those U-shaped peelers, but I do have other marks: tiny scars on both thumbs ; a deeper one on my right thumb where I drove a knife blade in while cutting chicken wings into ‘cherrystones’; slightly discolored circles on the sides of two fingers where I burnt myself. And sure enough, I have that chopping mark callous at the base of my left forefinger (I’m lefthanded). My hands are like a map of my cooking past, even if I’m no professional.
What do your hands look like? Are they smooth and unblemished? Do they have marks scars and callouses? I’m happy that my hands are marked, though I’m as much into pretty hands as any woman. I feel a bit guilty sometimes that I rely more and more on convenience appliances. As much as I do love my appliances, I’d rather use my hands to cook, whenever possible.
I’m only about two thirds of the way through The Kitchen, but already I know that it’s one of the best books about food that I have read in a long time, to compare with any of the best by my heroine M.F.K. Fisher. I’m looking forward to The Cook as well. The writing is deeply satisfying in a way that recently written books , or even recent movies , on the subject aren’t, quite, for me. (It seems to be out of stock at Amazon.com  but is in stock at Amazon UK .)
Speaking of books, we’re waiting for the designated winner of the 4th anniversary book giveaway  to get back to us; as soon as s/he does we’ll announce the winner!