Chris Hall reviews The Hungover Cookbook by Milton Crawford.
The Hungover Cookbook
Square Peg (Random House), pp 120
Approximately 99% of all books, guides, and websites with the word ‘Hangover’ in the title are useless, but you didn’t need me to tell you that. You’ve learned that through hard experience. They all tell you the same things, garnished with the classic ‘Of course, the only cure to a hangover is not to drink in the first place!’
There’s nothing wrong with this advice. It is sound, logical and correct. It is also utterly useless to the poor soul in the eighth circle of hell, clinging onto the floor with both hands. It is the equivalent of a wounded soldier opening his field first aid kit to find a note saying ‘Next time, duck!’
It was with this well-earned bitterness that I first thumbed open The Hungover Cookbook by Milton Crawford, all too sure of being disappointed again. In fact, I can categorically state that this book is the missing 1%.
Crawford begins this friendly, authoritative and genuinely helpful book with Wodehouse, who outlined the six kinds of hangover in the Bertie Wooster novel The Mating Season. And so, Crawford, with the help of some amusing visual tests and multiple-choice questions, helps you in diagnosing which type of hangover you are suffering from, be it the metaphysically challenging Broken Compass, the brain-puncturing Sewing Machine, the whimsical Comet, the obliterated Atomic, the nauseous Cement Mixer or the utterly crippling Gremlin Boogie. The book is then divided into chapters dedicated to treating each of these hangovers with food appropriate to the symptoms, and sprinkled with fun illustrations and classic quotes from libation-loving legends (my personal favourite being Wooster’s “I was left in no doubt about the severity of the hangover when a cat STAMPED into the room”).
The recipes vary from the mercifully simple to perhaps slightly ambitious. Whilst many of the foods are clever takes on classics, or simple things done very well, a lot of recipes include ingredients that most people do not have regularly. However, each chapter can almost always provide something basic and accessible. For example, upon reaching for the book the morning after celebrating my birthday (at BrewDog Camden no less, so you can imagine the fuel the hangover had to work with), I discovered quickly and painfully that I was suffering from a Sewing Machine. The piercing brain pains were a giveaway. For this, Crawford prescribes hearty comfort food. Whilst I was short of the necessary ingredients for scrambled eggs with feta cheese, an ‘Elvis Presley’ (Peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich), or an ice cream smoothie, a straightforward classic bacon sandwich sorted me out good and proper.
You could argue in that instance that a recipe is hardly needed, and that comfort food is a safe bet for many hangovers, but this is so much more than just a cookbook. What starts as a seemingly well-thought out bit of fun, quickly became one of the most important cookbooks, if not books, I own. We can all laugh at the various symptoms of hangovers, and we all ‘know what we need’ when we are suffering from one, but Crawford’s book borders on science. Having deftly diagnosed you, he recommends delicious food (rated by difficulty and time required to make) that treats symptoms, doesn’t patronise you, and has your best interest at heart. The recipes are clear, brief, and easy to read, and his tone is always somewhere between “Bloody shame, old boy” and “Don’t let the bastards grind you down!”
There is no need for the nannyish ‘don’t get drunk in the first place’ codswallop, because it’s implied through the author’s Wodehousian wit and the severity of the symptoms described. Crawford includes a disclaimer at the end of the book, disavowing himself from your drinking endeavours, but that’s all it is: a disclaimer.
In The Hungover Cookbook, Milton Crawford has created something, intelligent, witty, helpful and inspiring. Just reading about the delicious food you could be eating is almost enough to make you want to be hungover. As the man says at the start of the book: “A hangover is an opportunity…”