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OP: What Shall We Have Today?

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by Xavier Marcel Boulestin
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London, William Heinemann LTD, 1931. Hardcover. Very Good Plus, no jacket. First printing.

One of England’s most popular and prolific cookbook authors during the 1930s, Xavier Marcel Boulestin (1878–1943), was born and raised in France, then moved to England, where by the late 1920s he had become a successful restaurateur and a colorful man-about-town. There, he wrote nearly a dozen lively cookbooks that helped open the door to the French cuisine long resisted by his new countrymen.

What Shall We Have Today? (1931), one of his earliest efforts, represented for most Britons a genuine leap, not only introducing them to unfamiliar ingredients and new dishes but also encouraging them to exercise a degree of care and attention demanded in the cooking process. 

In about 40 highly entertaining introductory pages, Boulestin introduces fresh thoughts about food and offers sound instruction in chapters entitled Cooks, Mistresses and Recipes; The Right Dinner; The Main Culinary Processes; and The Tricks of the Trade.

“The dangerous person in the kitchen,” he observes under the heading Pitfalls, “is the one who goes rigidly by weights, measurements, thermometers, and scales.” For those householders still using cooks, he notes another peril: “…it is always dangerous to quarrel with your cook: you know what you have got, and you do not know what you are going to get.” 

The recipes are in prose form and divided by month with some suggested menus. Few measurements, much intelligence. 

The book was immensely popular and copies are not uncommon. Ours is a first printing, lacking the scarce dust jacket. The book block is in excellent shape. Some pages are showing hints of discoloration, but they are largely clean and crisp. The case shows modest shelfwear and rubbing around the edges. The delightful color frontispiece is by Boulestin’s artist of choice, J.E. Laboureur.

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