The Prospect Behind Us
Part 1, page 2

By no means all of those who presided over the birth of PPC expected the infant to survive for more than one or two issues. However, it did and it was soon peering over the side of its crib and looking to see what other activities it might perform. It was at this point that Jane and I met Sri Owen and learned that the Home Book of Indonesian Cookery, at that time her only published work, was reaching the end of its natural life and that the publishers, Faber, had reluctantly concluded that it would not be viable in paperback form. Since we had a special interest in the food and cooking of South-East Asia, and were confident that Sri's book would have a future as a paperback (all the more so if a substantial amount of the background information which Faber had not wished to include could be restored to it), we responded positively when Sri asked us whether we might take on the book. We had never published a book before but we supposed that it would not be very difficult. With the warm support of Rosemary Goad at Faber, we set to work with Sri and her husband Roger to bring Indonesian Food and Cooking into being.

Again, what we did could be logically justified, but the fact that we did it depended on various coincidences and most certainly did not represent any considered decision to go into the publishing of books.

A further coincidence led to our second title. Somewhere in the South of England a second-hand bookseller had had on his shelves, hovering uneasily in an area devoted to agriculture, the two volumes of Richard Bradley's The Country Housewife and Lady's Director (1736). Mike McKirdy, who was then building up with his wife Tessa what has since become the large and flourishing business known as Cook's Books, noticed Bradley's volumes, realised that they were essentially cookery books, and very interesting ones too, bought them and brought them to us with the suggestion that we might like to consider a facsimile reprint. The idea appealed to us greatly, all the more so since it seemed that Richard Bradley, the first Professor of Botany at Cambridge had been unjustly vilified by his successor in that chair and deserved a belated rehabilitation. Our daughter Caroline, a historian, willingly undertook the task of editing the books to become a single volume. The Oxford University Press (Printing Division, now abolished) lavished their design and typographical skills on the book, and out it came.

This was the first occasion on which we really had to think very hard about the size of the print run. Whereas the Indonesian book had been inexpensive to produce and seemed to be sure of selling to the tune of several thousand, Bradley was very expensive (almost £7 per copy, at 1980 prices) and we really could not tell how many people would fork out £18 (again, at 1980 prices) for it. We finally settled on a print run of 780, accepting what any other publisher would have regarded as a grotesquely tight ratio between unit production cost and retail price and hoping for the best. After the first hurry of sales it looked as though we had been too optimistic. However, a lucky break in the USA, where the University Press of Virginia had become our distributors, saved the day. James Beard, one of the triumvirate of the best-known cookery writers in the States, set eyes on the book and in his own words had 'an immediate love affair' with it. A focal point of the love affair was Bradley's recipe for Pineapple Tart, the earliest such recipe in English and one which Caroline had tried and found wonderfully good. (It seemed that a recipe which combined histroical interest and delicious results was an irresistible lure; Jane Grigson wrote about it too, picking it out as her favourite.)

Beard was by now at the end of his illustrious career and indeed at the end of his long life; the piece on Bradley which appeared under his familiar bye-line was in fact the last of his syndicated columns, and it had a dramatic effect on our fortunes. The University Press of Virginia were overwhelmed with orders and very soon Bradley was out of print.


The Prospect Behind Us - Part 1, page 3
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