- a blog about food and value

The Return of Thrifty Cooking

Rachael Bermingham and Kim McCosker, authors of 4 Ingredients (Photo: Irish Independent)

Rachael Bermingham and Kim McCosker, authors of 4 Ingredients (Photo: Irish Independent)

Last Friday, ITV’s Tonight show screened a programme about the demise of the celebrity chef. In the UK, Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Worrall-Thompson are amongst those whose restaurants have been battered by the recession. One wonders how Ramsay’s restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow, is faring. Meanwhile, over here, Dylan McGrath has closed the doors on Mint in Ranelagh, leaving behind a rake of angry debtors.

In today’s Irish Independent, journalist Aine Nugent writes that the end of the celebrity chef era has led to a return to old-fashioned frugality. Out go complicated recipes with specialist, hard-to-find ingredients; in comes cheap cuts of meat and thrift your great-granny would be proud of:

Back in is good old-fashioned cooking, copying granny rather than Gordon. And those feeling the pinch in their pockets need look no further than two busy mums who are taking the world by storm with their no-nonsense recipe book 4 Ingredients.

For Australian stay-at-home mums Rachael Bermingham and Kim McCosker, who have four children under six between them and precious little time or money for fancy ingredients and complex recipes, the idea sprouted when they began making meals at home that used just four ingredients each.

They collected more — up to 1,000 from friends and family — and produced the trimmed down left-overs into a 340- recipe book, initially self-publishing 2,000 copies after publishers turned them down. It has sold a staggering 1.5 million copies to date.

You can read the full article here. My mum recently gave me a dusty old copy of a Woman’s Weekly cooking book which, amazingly, stands the test of time. There’s plenty more old cookbooks lying around, though some of them can contain pretty stomach-churning recipes. Last week, I reluctantly went along with a recipe for Baked Fish in Tahini Sauce and learnt a valuable lesson: to trust my own judgement.

Of course, we’re big fans of Fiona Beckett’s The Frugal Cookbook, and next week, we’ll publish some of our reader’s top frugal cooking tips. In the meantime, can any of our readers recommend some good old-fashioned cookbooks?


  1. The best book I have is my mothers that she started when she got married. Great collection of good, old fashioned and wholesome food, but a bit of Jamie or Delia is good to test yourself now and again.

    I like to go between the two. Traditional and the modern cooking. If I had to pick one, mummy’s Irish stew will always win.

  2. My mother gave me Helen Corbitt’s Cookbook – it was a book given to her when she got married in the early 60s and the one she gave me was a 50th anniversary edition. So all the recipes were ones I grew up on. I’ve used it over and over and love it. You can find it on Amazon.

  3. I’ve flicked through 4 ingredients and found the content to be woeful, a jar of curry counts as an “ingredient”, nothing more inspiring than you’d find on teh back of a jar of uncle ben’s anyway. The boiled rice is even worse: if you don’t want to take the time to boil rice, buy a microwave pouch.

    The austrailian women’s weekly have 6 ingredients which is far superior, in fact all of the women’s weekly stuff rocks, especially their cakes/biscuits stuff, and the allergy cooking.

  4. I got ‘the wine and food of ely through the seasons’ from my fiance at Christmas….think it may have been a hint! And it worked too, it’s a great book, simple to follow and as the title suggests the recipes are grouped according to the season.

    A great little added extra is that each recipe in the book comes with a couple of wine recommendations, it also has little tips throughout on storing and serving wine too. Think my finance bought it in ely…. not sure if you can buy it in the book shops though. If you love food and wine, this book is definitely for you!

  5. I would really like to have this big tesure on my hands, I love cooking, i think having this book would be easier preparing all recipes. For the comments i can realize this book is extremely useful, definitely i will get it soon.
    I am an amateur of cooking books.

  6. I have a few of the Australian Women’s Weekly cookbooks and find them great. I love the way they are divided into topics, i.e. Italian, preserves, soups, etc. The recipes are simple but very tasty and very cheap to make. NO Weird or expensive ingredients.

  7. Hi,

    Any of you guys know of a good alround cookbook for kids. My three love to cook but i am running out of ideas.

  8. AnniemcB the DK Children’s cookbook (available from the bookpeople) has been used a lot in our house, has nice photos and instructions. Another one we use is Sarah Webb (the irish author) as her books (small, paperback) have some tasty recipes of things you would actually want to eat yourself.