I went vegetarian when I was about 13 or 14, mainly because most of my friends were vegetarian, and I found most meat a bit gross. I don’t remember it being much of a big deal – certainly not from my side of things – and I mostly remember my mum being super supportive and even a touch enthusiastic about finding new and fun vegetarian meals to cook.
I remember my mum bringing out a cookbook – or perhaps bringing it home newly purchased? – and showing me it. It was The Absolutely Animal-Free Cookbook, by Wendy Turner, who was a TV presenter and appears to still be a vocal animal rights advocate. She actually seems like quite a big deal, but not having English TV I had no idea who she was.
I remember so clearly my mum explaining to me that this woman actually didn’t eat anything that came from an animal at all – no meat, no eggs, no dairy – and I remember being a little confused as to why someone would go that irrationally far. Surely milk didn’t hurt the cows, nor eggs the chickens?! Anyway, my mum said, there should be some good recipes in there for me to try.
The first thing we made was the ginger spice loaf for which we required black treacle, which wasn’t easy to get hold of at the time in Luxembourg. My mum found this tub of a Belgian fruit spread – sirop de Liège (which about ten years later I found out was basically the same thing as the Sunwheel pear & apple spreads you get over here). It was so exciting sourcing and testing new ingredients for vegan recipes! I don’t know if we used that spread for anything else, but I do know it spent a good few years creating sticky residue at the back of the cupboard it was pushed around behind the jam jars and peanut butter.
Judging by the splatters all over the pages, the ginger spice loaf was the only thing we made! And I found this photo lurking in a batch of photos from 2009, when I hosted a Christmas dinner for some of my friends, which is definitely some sort of gingery loaf – but I have no idea if it is the ginger spice loaf from The Absolutely Animal-Free Cookbook (in fact, it doesn’t look nearly treacly-dark enough)!
Years later, I would develop an obsession with cookbooks (and food in general) and spend every meal or snack flicking my way through a cookbook cover-to-cover. Unfortunately, I didn’t give The Absolutely Animal-Free Cookbook much of a chance as it had no food photos in it, but I did take the time to read all the headnotes and note how different being vegan must have been in the 90s. Plus, it has so many cute illustrations!
The book offers a small but diverse selection of soups (like Mushroom and Walnut Soup), patés and spreads, sauces and dips, and simple comfort food mains like risottos, pies (Fridge Pie with Nut Pastry!), pastas, and even “Bacon” & Parsley Pancakes (though the bacon is to be store-bought)! In desserts, you can expect simple crowd-pleasers like Flaked Rice Pudding and Baked Bananas with Rum to the slightly more elaborate Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sundae with Chocolate Sauce, along with loaves, bars, and Strawberry Buns in the cakes and biscuits section.
Even in 1997, when this book was published, it was apparently already necessary to offer a page of “Ten Things that Vegans Get Used to Hearing“! I also love that this book has a fun little page on the benefits of going vegan (including being able to avoid embarrassing situations like being asked why you wear leather if you don’t eat meat), a glossary of ingredients and an ingredients index, and the occasional little story or anecdote.
Needless to say, this is far from my favourite cookbook in and of itself – recipes have come a long way, my tastes have changed, and I appreciate food photography more than anything. However, this book has played an important role in my vegan journey, and will therefore always have a place in my heart.