Review: Cooking With Heroes

The Royal British Legion is marking 100 years (1921-2021) with a new cookbook featuring recipes by personnel with contributions from, celebrity cooks and chefs.

The first thing to say about Cooking With Heroes is that it’s a very ambitious book at 470 pages. A tome both in terms of content and weight, it requires both hands to hold it up to read. The recipes appear by regions from Armagh to Zimbabwe, Essex to The Gambia, and Hampshire to New Zealand. There are favourites (Hello, Welsh rarebit!) and posh fish ‘n’ chips and other recipes, for instance, potato and apple bread, contributed by Chief Petty Officer John Potts, Royal Navy (Retired). Add to the mix personal stories, snippets of history and stunning photography and the wide appeal of this book will solve many Christmas gift shopping dilemmas. Or add it to your own Letter to Santa.

L to R: Introduction by author Squadron Leader Jon Pullen, RAF (retired); Nutritious knowledge, feeding the country during WWII.

Recipes appear in the usual order: starters, soups and snacks; main courses; and puddings.

Wild game features with Sherwood Forest venison with blackberries and Stilton dumplings (Graeme Watson, member of the Master Chefs of Great Britain) and Maltese rabbit stew (Corporal Peter Farringdon, RAF). Cyrus Todiwala, OBE, TV chef and proprietor of Café Spice Namasté shares a recipe for Cholay channa daal do pyazza using split yellow peas and chickpeas. Something called Oil Down (Private Simbai Akomba, Army) turns out to be. a Grenadian fish dish traditionally cooked over an open fire until only the coconut remains at the bottom.

Puddings include a Lemon posset with poppy seed shortbread (Chef Siobhan Kent, Royal Navy); and Banana arkaras with dipping sauces (Corporal Spencer Monaghan, Army). A timely addition in this section is a recipe for Ernest Shackleton-inspired mince pies by Leading Catering Services Simon Hopkins, Royal Navy. This year also marks 100 years since the Shackleton–Rowett Expedition, Ernest Shackleton’s last Antarctic project, and the final episode in the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

L to R: bespoke sweet treats for the launch by Biscuit Boutique; Pork and Stilton pie (Corporal Lee Coxon, RAF); Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Patron of The Royal British Legion; West Yorkshire Local Hero: the late Captain Sir Tom Moore.

Working with other charities is the more visible part of our work; it is through the individuals – whether serving, veterans, family, friends or supporters – that our true impact is felt.

Charles Byrne, Director General, The Royal British Legion.

L to R: Cornish moules by Rick Stein; Leigh-on-sea sole, cooked in a smoky seafood broth recipe by Jamie Oliver.

This is a truly collaborative book. Celebrity-style cooks and chefs who contributed regional recipes include Sophie Thompson (Cullen skunk, Glasgow), James Martin (Yorkshire pudding ), Hairy Bikers (Mushroom bourguignon cobbler, Tyne & Wear), Rick Stein (Cornish moules), Jamie Oliver (Leigh-on-sea sole, cooked in a smoky seafood broth) and more.

A good recipe book is one that inspires you to try the dishes for yourself. The stunning food photography in Cooking With Heroes is by Neil White, with food styling by Elayna Rudolphy.

L to R: Posh fish ’n’ chips with cockle tartare (Paul Gayler, MBE, food writer); Banana ankaras with dipping sauces (Corporal Spencer Monaghan, Army).

Squadron Leader Jon Pullen, RAF (Retired) has worked with military chefs, volunteers and publishers previously to produce Food For Heroes (2009) and raised £100,000 for the Help For Heroes charity; in 2017 a similar project The RAF100 Cookbook raised £150,000 for RAF charities.

The list of sponsors involved in the Cooking With Heroes project is impressive and ranges from Arkell’s Bewery to Branston Pickle and Motezumas to Sarsons Vinegar. Many feature their own stories in the book by way of promotion but it’s subtle and related content.

We have had plenty of experience to call upon with the team having served for a total of 1,385 years between us…not to mention the vast quatities of range stew, egg banjos, and cheesy-hammy-eggies consumed.

Squadron Leader Jon Pullen, RAF (Retired)

Local Heroes. L to R: Somerset, Odette Hallowes, Special Operations Executive, and the highest decorated woman in the Second World War; Aberdeen, Marion Patterson, the first Senior Fire Guard to receive the George Medal for civilian gallantry. The painting commissioned by the King and by Scots artist, Robert Sivell, now hangs in the Imperial War Museum.

This astonishing project was undertaken during the pandemic, with weekly meetings via Zoom to ‘share progress, issues and perhaps a small glass of something’.

Cooking With Heroes, The Royal British Legion Centenary Cookbook published by St James House. RRP £19.95 with £5 for every sale in support of the charity.

Further photography in the book is courtesy Alamy, Getty Images, the Imperial War Museum, with contributions from many more photographers.

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