Essential survival manual includes an easy recipe for tasty tripe

Far too many years ago I displayed some common and not so common childhood culinary aversions.

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

Brown bread, greens and porridge were high on my blacklist.

I absolutely detested sardines and salmon and couldn’t remain at the same table as a plate of fried, grilled or casseroled liver!

Strangely, as I got older, the childhood dishes I most disliked became my favourites, except for one - tripe!

Katharine Whitehorn on the cover of Selective Memory

For the uninitiated, tripe is offal - the stomach of a cow, pig, sheep, ox or goat, of varying texture and taste depending on its ‘donor’, most popularly cooked with onions in Ireland and the UK.

I hated its bland taste, tangled texture and undeniably intestinal appearance, until I went to university in 1970 equipped with Katharine Whitehorn’s now world-famous and much reprinted cookery book - ‘Cooking in a Bedsitter’.

“I am no fonder of boiled knitting than the next man,” her Tripe Catalan recipe began “but I assure you that this is rather different from normal tripe. It really is edible.”

She started with an onion and seasoning in a pot of water.

Tripe

“Into this, averting your eyes” her recipe continues “put the piece of damp blanket you received from the butcher. Clap the lid on and boil gently for two hours.”

Then cut it into strips, coat with flour and fry with herbs, tomatoes and another onion until soft.

I loved Whitehorn’s light touch and humorous approach, her tripe was delicious and her ‘Cooking in a Bedsitter’ has ever since been my much thumbed culinary bible in sundry bedsitters, flats, apartments and houses.

Back in August 2018 I mentioned on this page that Katharine Whitehorn was in a London care home suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Sadly, she died last month on January 8. aged 92.

She’d been diagnosed with Covid-19 though it’s not clear if this contributed to her death.

In the Picture Post, Woman’s Own, Saga Magazine, The Spectator and the Observer, Katharine Whitehorn’s prolific articles, columns and books brought her an enormous readership and a CBE in 2014 for her services to journalism.

First published in 1961, the introduction to the 2008 reprint of ‘Cooking in a Bedsitter’ begins “There is one powerful smell closely associated with the making of coffee in bedsitters. It is the smell of burning plastic and it will go away if you move the handle of the pot away from the flame”!

Another memorable culinary tip opened Chapter 15, entitled ‘Drinks and Parties’.

“It should be news to no one that red wine goes with red meat and game, white wine with fish, veal and fruit. More to the point, perhaps, is that white wine goes with carpets; red wine only with floors you can wipe clean or don’t need to care about.”

Katharine Whitehorn’s classic handbook of quick, simple meals - including Swedish Sausage Casserole, Lamb Tomato Quickie and Shrimp Wiggle “became the essential survival manual for the busy single person living in his or her first rented room and remained in print for 40 years,” the reprint’s introduction continues.

Whitehorn’s “trademark intelligent, practical and fabulously funny writing shines as brightly as ever, addressing the problems of ‘cooking at ground level’ in a hurry, with nowhere to put the salad but in the washing-up bowl, which is in any case full of socks”!

The reprint’s introduction ends with a glowing commendation - “delightful, entertaining and utterly indispensable.”

Back in May 2005 when Katharine Whitehorn was Sue Lawley’s castaway on BBC Radio 4’s iconic Desert Island Discs programme she was described as “the first journalist to write a column about her personal and domestic life and draw broader truths from her experiences - it’s the kind of material that is now commonly found on women’s pages and is satirised in Private Eye’s Polly Filler - but in the 1950s and 1960s it was a new phenomenon and she was its brightest and wittiest exponent.”

When Katharine chose her eight discs for the desert island she was working as the agony aunt for Saga Magazine and was “at the vanguard of a generation of women who were told they could ‘have it all’ and she may even be the only one to have managed it - a successful, well-paid career, a happy marriage and complete family.”

While she was at the Picture Post Katharine met Gavin Lyall - who went on to become a successful novelist - they had two sons and were married for 45 years until his death in 2002.

In her autobiography ‘Selective Memory’ first published in 2007 she wrote “Marriage is the water in which you swim, the land you live in ... once a widow you have to learn to live in another country in which you are an unwelcome refugee.”

Her ‘Cooking in a Bedsitter’ is divided into two main sections headlined Cooking to Stay Alive and Cooking to Impress.

As the titles suggest there are some ‘tongue-in-cheek’ suggestions, but an immense amount of practical guidance too.

Along with over 300 straightforward and easily followed recipes, Whitehorn’s advice for a small kitchen’s range of equipment is concise - “it is not a question of the best possible tools, but the fewest.”

Amongst “the things you should aim to have” is a tin-opener that works “without covering the whole room in blood”!