Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Cheesemongers of London - Sorting your Cardo from your Coolea

Oak bowl by Robert Thompson
The 'Mouseman" of Kilburn

It's not difficult to buy cheese in London.  It's not difficult to buy good cheese in London.  But it wasn't always so and you still need to sort your Cardo from your Coolea.

Cardo: a washed-rind goat's cheese made by Mary Holbrook in Somerset;
The supple, glossy paste is typically chalkier, curdier at core; 
floral flavours are cut with a vegetal bitterness. The rind is savoury and rich; 
texture is toothsome, sometimes with pleasant crystalline crunch.  
Cardoon stamen infusion.  Source: Neal's Yard Dairy

In the Victorian era, cheesemongers were as common on the London high street as butchers, bakers, and greengrocers.  Two World Wars and the rush for mass production to feed a post-war population brought cheesemaking to a rubbery, tasteless low.  Patrick Rance wrote of the depths most British cheese had sunk to by 1982 in his The Great British Cheese Book.  "Good cheese has been almost killed by lack of understanding and care among politicians, bureaucrats, dairymen and retailers.  It can only be raised back to health by a professional, indeed a vocational, attitude in those who wish to put things right and make their living by doing so."  From his little cheese shop in Streatley, Berkshire, which he set up in 1954 (closed in 1990), his words were a rallying call to those who cared about our cheesemaking history.

Patrick Rance's book appeared 3 years after the formation of Neal's Yard Dairy, where in 1979 a small group of enthusiasts began making yogurt and soft cheeses at their Covent Garden base.  The early results weren't always a success so they bought in the best cheeses they could get from wholesalers to re-sell alongside their experimental cheeses.  Then cheesemaker Hilary Charnley sent them a 'Devon Garland', a Caerphilly-style cheese, to try.  Its flavour and character were so different from what they had been buying that Randolph Hodgson, who by then owned Neal's Yard Dairy, drove down to Devon to see why.  What he found was a small-scale, independent, traditional cheesemaker of a kind that had all but disappeared.  Her introductions to a few other artisan cheesemakers nearby made it feasible for Hodgson to make regular visits to the producers, select the cheeses he wanted, transport them back to London, mature them and sell them to appreciative customers.  Hodgson's subsequent formation of the Specialist Cheesemakers Association proved vital in successfully countering Whitehall and EU misinformation about safety in cheese production, and halting the mass Americanisation of our farmhouse cheese production.

I worked for a short while at Neal's Yard Dairy and I can't recommend enough this champion (saviour, in fact) of British farmhouse cheeses. Thanks to that education, I know a little bit about what it takes to care for the lovingly produced cow's, ewe's and goat's milk cheeses in all their hard, semi-hard, soft, washed and blue glory.  So I think, a few recommendations for my fellow cheese-lovers in London, whether you live here or are just visiting, is long overdue.  This list is not definitive but is based on my own experience.  To buy the best cheeses that have been carefully selected, knowledgeably handled and offered in peak condition, you have to find who truly knows their Cardo from their Coolea.

Neal's Yard Dairy

First up has to be Neal's Yard Dairy.  Their focus continues to be on supporting the makers of farm cheese and produce in the British Isles, with a particular passion for unpasteurised and raw milk cheeses. They still, as they have done since the early 1980's, make regular buying trips to the makers.  These days, maturing is carried out in south London railway arches.  Their tiny Covent Garden shop is only a few paces from the original premises used back at the birth of the business, but there is a larger shop alongside Borough Market.  This is the shop that will open your eyes to how good British dairy produce can be.  They also run a great series of Cheese Tasting Classes. Most good cheese shops and many restaurants in the UK, and beyond, source their British cheeses from Neal's Yard Dairy.
RETAIL & WHOLESALE
LOCATIONS: 17 Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden WC2 & 6 Park Street, (Borough Market) SE1
They also open Saturday 9-2pm at Spa Terminus, Bermondsey SE16.  On-line ordering too.

Gour Noir Raw Goat's milk cheese
at Mons Cheesemongers

The British arm of the French company Mons Cheesemongers was set up in 2006 by two ex-Neal's Yard Dairy staff.  In France, Hubert Mons had started his business by sourcing artisanal cheeses for his market stall in the Auvergne region of France in the early 1960's.  From maturing rooms in St Haon le Chatel in the Cote Roannaise comes traditionally made French and Swiss cheeses to feed an appreciate London market. A number of good cheese shops and restaurants in the UK buy their French cheeses from Mons Cheesemongers.
RETAIL & WHOLESALE
LOCATIONS: Borough Market, SE1; Brockley Market on Saturdays; Spa Terminus, Bermondsey SE1 on Saturdays.  New shop soon to open in East Dulwich.


London Cheesemongers
Pavilion Road, Chelsea

If you were in any doubt of the good done by Neal's Yard Dairy to the cheese world, you just have to look at the people who have set up these independent businesses (not to mention those who have gone on to make cheese).  Jared Wybrow of London Cheesemongers is another of the alumni. Late last year he added to his London market stall portfolio with a shop in Chelsea.  Jared's many years spent at Neal's Yard Dairy, where he ran their 'Markets', is clear to see in the attention to detail in this exemplary cheesemonger.  Here the focus is on sourcing a small but perfectly formed selection of British, French and Italian cheeses and other dairy produce for a West London clientele. The upstairs room at Pavilion Road hosts events and offers cheese lunches on Saturdays providing an opportunity to get to know the cheeses and take a break from shopping.
LOCATIONS: Shop at 251 Pavilion Road SW1.  Saturdays at Hildreth Street Market, Balham SW12; Sundays Herne Hill Farmer's Market SE24,


Cheese by Patricia Michelson

Patricia Michelson opened her shop, La Fromagerie, in Highbury Park in 1992 and a second in Marylebone in 2002.  Both feature maturing cellars and walk-in cheese rooms.  Patricia's knowledge and passion for cheese is well known and I remember my own excitement at discovering her little cheese cave in the original Highbury shop at a time when it was not so easy to buy good French cheeses in London.  Both of the shops also offer a range of foods and feature cafes and while the Marylebone premises can feel cramped, the walk-in cheese room can feel like a calm oasis amongst the bustle.  Michelson's book Cheese, published in 2010, covers 450 varieties from around the world, the importance of terroir and information on storing, cutting and serving them. La Fromagerie also has a wide-ranging Events schedule.
RETAIL & WHOLESALE
LOCATIONS: Shops at Higbury N5 and Marylebone W1

KaseSwiss cheeses

KaseSwiss, although primarily a wholesaler of cheeses, qualifies for my favourites list as it opens for retail each Saturday at Spa Terminus in Bermondsey SE16.  Owner Rachael Sills founded Kaseswiss in 2005 after 10 years with Neal's Yard Dairy and focusses on selecting and showcasing traditional artisan made cheeses from Switzerland.  She also sells a select range of hand-made unpasteurised milk, small-batch Dutch cheeses for sister company Boerenkaas,
RETAIL & WHOLESALE
LOCATION: Arch 5, Voyager Estate South, Bermondsey SE16 4RP (Saturdays 9am - 2pm)


MAKERS & MONGERS:
I must mention a couple of small London Cheesemongers who sell only cheeses they make themselves.  And what cheeses they are:

Bermondsey Hard Pressed
Kappacasein

When William Oglethorpe began making cheese in his railway arch in south London in 2008 it seemed an unlikely location for a dairy but it provides a perfect space and maturing conditions for the cheeses he produces at Kappacasein Dairy.  Collecting raw organic cow's milk during the morning's milking from a farm in Kent and starting the cheese-making process within 2 hours of collection is a vital part of the cheesemaking approach here.  Making the curd in a 600L copper vat with minimum interventions adds to Kappacasein's commitment to bringing out the best qualities of the milk used.  What comes out of the arch is Bermondsey Hard Pressed, a traditional Alpage Gruyere type; Bermondsey Frier, made to an Italian Formaggio Cotto recipe; a cow's milk Ricotta; and a traditional Pot Set Yoghurt.
LOCATION: Arch 1, Voyager Estate South, Bermondsey SE16 4RP (Saturdays 9am - 2pm).  You will also find Kappacasein at Borough Market where you can enjoy the best cheese toastie in London.

A matured Edmund Tew cheese from
Blackwoods Cheese Company

Blackwoods Cheese Company was founded in summer 2013 to make raw milk soft cow's cheeses using as little intervention as possible.  Collecting their milk supplies from a trusted Kent farm as milking was taking place then transporting it back to their Brockley cheesemaking base. Last year, helped by Crowdfunding, they relocated their base to nearby Chiddingstone, Kent to be closer to the source of their milk.   Cheeses are currently Graceburn, a Persian Feta style cheese; Blackwood's Cow's Curd, a fresh lactic cheese; Edmund Tew (the first in their convict series - see website!), a small lactic cow's cheese that develops a Geotrichum rind and a savoury malty flavour; and William Heaps, a fresh, lactic cow's cheese.  It's useful to know that Blackwood's is also a supplier of Whey.
LOCATIONS: Brockley Market and Borough Market and various shops in London.


Other Cheesemongers in London of note:
Paxton & Whitfield
RETAIL & WHOLESALE
LOCATIONS: Shops at 93 Jermyn Street W1; 22 Cale Street, SW3; and a small number of stores outside London

Androuet 
RETAIL & WHOLESALE
LOCATION: Shop at 10a Lamb Street E1 (Old Spitalfields Market).

Coolea: A pasteurised cow's milk hard cheese made by Dick Willems in County Cork; 
The flavours are sweet and rich with hints of hazelnut, butterscotch and honey.
Smooth and close in texture, reminiscent of Dutch Gouda.    Animal Rennet. 
Source: Neal's Yard Dairy

I wonder what Patrick Rance would make of things now?

Friday, 21 April 2017

In praise of warm salads

A Warm Salad of Broad Beans

I'm writing about salad.  Risky, I know.  Who needs to be told how to make a salad?  But I like to cook with the seasons and this is the kind of thing I put on the table at this time of year so here we are.

Now, when days can be sunny and warm and full of promise of summer to come, temperatures can still plummet at night.  We growers eye our early spring sowings nervously and hope Jack Frost stays away.  In the shops there are early new potatoes from Jersey and France.  Our own broad beans are just beginning to sprout but the Italians have sent over a welcome taste of their early crops.  The organised have salad leaves growing undercover.  It's the perfect time to move on to what I think of as 'warm salads'.  The basics are an ever-changing succession of leaves with warm, waxy potatoes, vinaigrette dressings, sometimes with the addition of herbs or mustards.  Broad beans or Asparagus kick off the season, moving on to peas, French beans and Runner Beans.  A little protein comes in the form of bacon, pancetta, chorizo, smoked trout or anchovy.  Seasonal food with still a little warmth in it, the salad leaf wilting slightly in the agreeable embrace of the other ingredients.  And now we've started, we'll be eating warm salads right through to autumn.

Broad Bean Plant illustration by Patricia Curtan
in my copy of Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters

The Broad Bean, Vicia faba, also known as the Fava bean, has been cultivated and eaten in Europe for at least 5,000 years.  It was the original 'bean' until other varieties arrived from the New World causing it to be then known as the 'Broad Bean' for its distinctive shape.  Broad Beans grow well in cool damp climates so the English spring offers perfect growing conditions for them.  When the pods grow to around 5cm they can be cooked and eaten whole.  Any larger and the casing needs to be discarded and the beans eaten either raw or cooked.  When the beans get bigger than a thumb nail the pale grey-green outer casing can become tough and indigestible so they need to be cooked and slipped out of their coats to reveal their pea-green inner.  At the end of their season they become mealy but are still good cooked, mashed to a puree and seasoned with lemon, herbs, olive oil and salt. Good herbs to use with Broad Beans are chervil, mint, dill or tarragon.

In Italy and France at this time very small, young broad beans are cooked whole in their pods and tossed in butter and herbs.  In Italy in Spring, raw broad beans are podded at the table and served with a salty local cheese - in Rome a pungent Pecorino, in Sardinia a ewe's milk ricotta called Marzotica.  In Spain, The Catalans have Fabes a la Catalana, a dish that marries broad beans (fabes) with black pudding, or other sausage or slices of pork fat. The Portuguese cook Favas Guisadasa stew of Broad Beans and Chourico sausage.  

Having picked up Patience Gray's Honey from a Weed in search of wise words on Beans, I'm thankful I chose to write about fresh, not dried, Beans.  A reading of her chapter on Beans, Peas and Rustic Soups is rewarding on the subject of 'beans make you fart'  I'm sorry, but this appeals to the English sense of humour so, having found it, I have to offer you this sentence  "... every cook will recall his/her favourite fartiste .... but I would like to put in a word for Papa Galeazzo, the 17th century priest who once stole the 'stopper' used by the Baroness of Lucugnano in the Salento on festive occasions, replacing it artfully with a bird whistle to startling effect in the country dance."

That gem alone justifies this posting, I think!  So here comes a fresh Broad Bean version of a warm salad - Italian beans for me right now as my own plants stand a mere 12cm high.  Broad Beans have a particular affinity with bacon so that's my choice with a peppery rocket.  It's worth knowing that 1 kg of pods yields around 300g of beans, but salads don't require exactitude, which is another reason to like them.

A warm salad of Broad Beans
(serves 4)

1 kg Broad Bean Pods (around 300g podded beans)
800g waxy potatoes
200g streaky bacon or pancetta
2 good handfuls of rocket (or other salad leaf)
2 tablespoons lemon juice or Moscatel vinegar
Salt and pepper
1 good teaspoon of Dijon mustard, if using
6-7 tablespoons Olive Oil

Wash the potatoes (skin on or off, as you prefer) and boil for c. 20 minutes until cooked
Pod the broad beans, wash and boil in salted water until just cooked - 1-2 mins for small beans.  Drain and plunge into cold water to retain the colour.
Cut the bacon into small pieces and fry in a hot pan until crisp.
Mix your vinaigrette in a large serving bowl.
Drain and slice the potatoes thickly before adding them to the dressing.  Add the cooked broad beans, the bacon (including the cooking fat), and the rocket/salad leaf.  Stir gently but well and serve.


If you grow your own Broad Beans, remember to nip out the top few centimetres once they are fully in flower.  This will discourage black fly from colonising the fleshy top-growth and encourage the plant to put its energy into the beans rather than growing taller.  You can cook and eat the pinched-out tops just as you would spinach. 

Friday, 17 March 2017

Lemon Cake

Lemon Cake sliced

We all need no-nonsense cake recipes.  The sponge cake recipe that always rises to the top of the tin; the perfectly-spiced Carrot Cake; the most chocolatey Brownie and flourless chocolate cake; the retro Upside-Down Cake; the please-don't-be-dry fruit cake; and, these days, the failsafe Gluten-free Cake (thank you Moro the Cookbook) - essentials all.  I would add to that list a luscious Lemon Cake.  In fact I'd put it at the top of my list of go-to recipes, but then I'm a sucker for citrus.

Helena Attlee in her book The Land Where Lemons Grow tells us that Sicilian growers "call their beautifully cultivated lemon groves Giardini or even Paradisi".  As a grower - sadly not of citrus - this appeals to my bucolic senses.  Dipping into her book, which covers all types of citrus grown in the areas of Italy where cultivation is suitable, has just made me check my stash of marmalade now the season is coming to an end.  Helena reminds us that only the British are somewhat fundamentalist about what goes into marmalade, demanding Spanish Seville oranges when there are plenty of other bitter citrus fruits that do just as well, if not better.  This year my own favourite marmalade contains bitter orange, mandarin and lemon, but Seville Marmalade has a place on my shelves too.

Sicilian Lemons

I've hardly scratched the surface of Catherine Phipps's book Citrus: Recipes that celebrate the sweet and the sour but enough to be awakened to how much I take lemons for granted - the dressings and syrups; the curds and lemonades; the sorbets and marinades; the puddings and preserves; the stuffed chickens and braised chicories.  Enough to identify with the truth that "If a dish seems muddy or flat, with indistinct flavours that are not quite gelling, the chances are a squeeze of lemon will sort it out." Rachel Roddy in Five Quarters puts it most succinctly, I think.  Lemons "lift, cut, sharpen, encourage and brighten"  And she has a star recipe for Ciambellone di Ricotta e Limone (Ricotta and lemon ring cake), which vies for my attention with Carla Tomasi's recipe for Cassola (Lemon Cheesecake).

Which brings us back to cake.  I picked up the original of this Lemon Cake recipe when visiting the USA around two decades ago.  It's been tweaked and turned on its head many times since - I remember originally it contained poppy seeds and sometimes it still does.  Like so many recipes I make again and again I thought it wasn't special enough to merit a posting.  But if I've learned anything, it's that those are the recipes that we should be sharing.  I value this recipe as I value those lemons.

So here is what I think I can now call my Lemon Cake recipe.  Even after all this time I feel another tweak coming on.  Searching my bookshelves for a Jane Grigson quote on 'lemons' I noticed a reference to lemon syrup to be poured over a pound cake with a suggestion to add a "measure or two of gin"!  Maybe next time I will.  This one is just made for a cup of tea.

Lemon Cake

Lemon Cake
(21 x 11 cm loaf tin)

100ml milk
100g soft butter
175g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
175g plain flour
1½ teaspoon baking powder
Grated zest of 2 lemons
¼ teaspoon salt

Lemon Syrup:
60g granulated sugar
60ml lemon juice

Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C Fan)/Gas 4.  
Lightly butter and flour the loaf tin.
Cream butter and sugar well.
Add the eggs, little by little, beating well.
Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest.
Add the dried ingredients to the creamed mixture in three portions, alternating with the milk, mixing each in briefly just until smooth.  
Pour into the prepared loaf tin, making a slight indent down the centre so the cake doesn't rise too unevenly.  
Bake until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean - 55-60 minutes.  Remove from the oven.
Gently heat the lemon juice and sugar for the syrup until the sugar has dissolved.  
Pierce the loaf with a skewer around 12 times and pour the hot syrup over the cake in the loaf tin.  
Allow the cake to cool for 30 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack.  Cool completely, wrap in cling film and leave at room temperature overnight.  Keeps well for 3-4 days.

If you would like to add poppy seeds, add 3 tablespoons to the milk and allow to soak for 1 hour before making the cake as above.

LINKS YOU MIGHT LIKE:

Sweetmeat Cake

Spiced courgette and lemon cake

Courgette Soup

Cucumber Salad

Rosie's Blackcurrant and lemon posset 

Tarta de Santiago

Warm plum and citrus compote

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Barcelona January 2017

Silver Birch in January
Barcelona

We have "polar air" insists every swaddled Barcelonian we speak to.  It's mid-January and we were promised 15C but now the daytime temperature is hovering around 5C and it is shocking the locals. The skies are blue, there are oranges on the trees, few tourists, and it's warmer than London so we have no complaints.  We are regular visitors to Barcelona, so I've put links to previous posts at the bottom of this piece.  Let's dive in.

Croissant de mazapán
from Pasteleria Hofmann, Barcelona

First stop is Nomad Coffee to fuel-up on their Rwandan Muyongwe, a Bourbon varietal offering flavours of peach, caramel and lime.  I'm mentioning Nomad not for the first time but this remains, for me, the best coffee roaster in Barcelona. There are now three locations, two open Monday-Friday and the latest, in Raval, Every Day.  The original, Coffee lab & Shop in El Born, has the not insignificant added attraction of Pasteleria Hofmann being only a 5 minute walk away, close to Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar and Parc Ciutadella.  Happily you are welcome to eat your croissant de mazapán (my choice) with your coffee at Nomad.  The Roasters' Home is in Poblenou where you can pick up a take-away.  Satan's Coffee Corner  in the Barri Gotic still retains my affection, and they serve good, freshly made light lunch dishes with an Asian influence too.

Bunyols de Bacalla
at Perello, Mercat de Ninot, Barcelona

What to do when you arrive too late for lunch?  Head for a food market, of which there are more than 40 in Barcelona.  There is the Boqueria, of course, but there is also the recently renovated Mercat del Ninot, on Carrer del Mallorca in Eixample Esquerra.  If you appreciate bacalla, Perello is an excellent stall to head for.  Have the Bunyols de Bacalla (little fried fritters) for sure.  We followed with a good Bacalla Omelette and a dish of Ou amb Moixama (egg, dried tuna and potatoes)  and finished with a Feran Adria style featherlight aerated Crema Catalana. There is plenty of choice in Mercat del Ninot, including Morales Xarcuteria, Carnisseria i Aviram for steaks and Catalan meat dishes.  Mercat Santa Caterina in El Born and Mercat de la Llibertat in Gracia are the other markets I would head to.

Bar Zim
Barcelona

It's surprisingly easy to go wrong when it comes to wine and tapas in Barcelona.  While we did try a couple of new (to us) bars, I still find the best place to start your night is in Barri Gotic at Bar Zim.  The link I've given, whilst a few years old, still applies well to this simple, perfect little bar.  It's bursting at the seams with 12 people in it, so don't tell too many people about it.

Torta del Casar with chestnuts and honey
at Quimet y Quimet, Barcelona

Everyone will tell you to go to El Poble Sec for drinks and tapas at Quimet y Quimet, and I completely agree.  The  various montaditos are exquisite and, much as I enjoy the wines, the house beer is like amber nectar.

Pescaditos

And still there is Pa amb tomàquet with Anxova and fried Pescaditos at Bar La Plata in the Barri Gotic.  And Bar Brutal/Can Cisa in Born - La Ribera for natural wines (and food) of course.  I did, this time, make it to El Vaso de Oro in Barceloneta  It's a good place for a beer, I guess, but I don't really get it. Yes, I have failed to mention lots of places you might expect, but the ones I have here are what I needed on this visit.

Fish of the day (Corvina family)
at Monocrom, Barcelona

I probably can live on tapas but I must mention a restaurant or two and on this visit we found Monocrom, a restaurant which opened 6 months ago in the residential neighbourhood of Sant Gervasi-Galvany.  It's friendly and relaxed, they source their ingredients with a lot of care and 80% of the wines are natural.  A platter of out-of-the-ordinary sliced meats and sausage and Pa am Tomaquet started us off.  Fish of the day, when we visited, was a member of the Corvina family, filleted and simply cooked with tomatoes, fennel and saffron.  A dish of Costella de Porc came as a melting roast belly pork with an Agrodolce sauce, carrots and glazed onions.  The selection of Spanish cheeses were all new to me and included Lazana, Gamoneu and Casin from the Asturias, Extramuros from Castellón and Luna Rosa from Ávila served with a basket of the finest Carta de Musica bread.  There is a lot to admire here in food, wine and service.  Expect to pay around Euros 40 per head including drinks.  It's early days but definitely one to return to.  Cal Pep in el Born continues to please but eating at the bar, rather than the back room, will always deliver the best experience here.

Door in El Born
Barcelona

Next up, food shops.  Casa Vives at Rambla de Catalunya 58 in Eixample (and at Carrer de Sants 74) is a traditional style pasteleria.  Good for cakes, chocolates, delicious Empanadas and light as air Bunyols (Lenten doughnuts).  Forn Baluard, sits across the road from Mercat Barceloneta. You can pick up decent breads and bakery here.  They also have the bakery at Praktik Hotel at Calle Provenca 279.  Formatgeria la Seu in the Barri Gotic is the place to go if you want to choose from a carefully curated range of Spanish cheeses.  For Torrons of all kinds go to La Campana on Calle Princessa in El Born.  I ought to mention, again, Pasteleria Hofmann here as I'd hate you to miss it. 

Hivernacle (Winter Garden)
Parc Ciutadella, Barcelona

It's hard to tell someone else what to see but here goes.  All the Gaudi architecture you can possibly take in.  Museu Picasso in El Born.  The Museu Maritim in the former shipyard of the Drasannes at the lower end of the Rambla. The Mies van der Rohe Pavilion in Parc de Montjuic (Metro: Espanya).  Parc Ciutadella including the wonderfully neglected Hivernacle (Winer Garden) and the Umbracle (unglazed wooden greenhouse for shade loving tropical plants).

Barcelona

One place I didn't get to visit that sounds interesting was Vila Viniteca - Gastronomia in el Born for cured meats, cheese and wines to eat in or take home.  Next time for me but you might want to take a look.  

Now, go before the tourists beat you to it.  Take a scarf just in case the "polar air" comes too.

Links to earlier posts:

Barcelona January 2016

Barcelona Spring 2015

Friday, 27 January 2017

Food Book Fundamentals

Pole position Books

There was a time when if you wanted a good choice of books on the subject of food you sought out a specialist book shop.  Here in London, you took the tube to Notting Hill Gate, walked up Portobello Road and spent a glorious hour or so in Heidi Lascelles's Books for Cooks shop.  If the formidable Clarissa Dickson Wright was behind the counter, she'd find you the books you wanted, and one or two you never knew you needed.  Time it right and the smell of freshly cooked food would be wafting through the shop from the tiny test kitchen in the back.  Here the resident cook would be trying out recipes from the books.  You would, of course, linger in the hope of snaffling one of the very few seats for lunch.

Now every bookshop worth its salt has a large section for food books.  Often there's a cafe, though what's on offer is likely to be far less considered.  And now there's the 'stack them high, sell them cheap' kind of book shopping on-line.  Search, select, pay is less a joyous feast for the senses more a joyless interaction with PayPal.

Daunt Books
Marylebone, London

Judging by the number of new cookbooks coming out each year, our appetite for recipe books, in particular, seems to be insatiable. But if you live in a tiny flat, as I do, and hate parting with books, you have to sort the wheat from the chaff in the bookstore.

Fundamental meaningIndispensable, foundational, 
essential, necessary, vital, crucial, paramount

Eggplants Letterpress by Patricia Curtan
for Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters

My bookshelves, and yours too, no doubt, hold Indispensable books owned for years.  I grow some of my own fruit and veg so on my metaphorical pole position sits both Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book and Fruit BookNigel Slater's Tender I and Tender II; and Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Vegetables and Fruit books.  Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Remolif Shere has earned it's place on the shelf as well.  There too is just about every book Simon Hopkinson has written, with Roast Chicken and Other Stories and The Vegetarian Option being most decoratively splattered.  There's a spine-cracked copy of Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking, of course; along with Moro the Cookbook by Sam & Sam Clark, which marries robust Spanish food with with the lighter, exotic dishes of the Muslim Mediterranean; and there's Claudia Roden's The Food of Spain.  There are no recipes in Derek Cooper's Snail Eggs and Samphire but his 'Despatches from the Food Front' are as relevant today as ever.  This book of food journalism at its best is a reminder of how much has changed in the food world and, worryingly, how much remains the same.  It's a book I dip into regularly for a helping of his sane, wise voice.  Also earning its place is the weighty McGee on Food & Cooking - an encyclopedia of kitchen science, history and cooking by the fantastically knowledgeable Harold McGee.  These are most definitely the foundation of my food book collection.

'How not to cook an octopus' from
Rachel Roddy's Five Quarters

But what of more recent acquisitions, and which became essential to my cookery year?  Undoubtedly Rachel Roddy's Five Quarters - Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome, not only for the tried and tested recipes but for the generous acknowledgements, ladles of lyricism and spoonfuls of self-deprecating humour that comes with them.  Books from Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich Honey & Co - Food from the Middle East and Honey & Co - The Baking Book - heart and soul recipes spiced with just the right amount of anecdotes and memories.   What all three books have in common, apart from a publisher, is engaging writing styles, spot-on accessible recipes and evocative photography.  Fern Verrow - a year of recipes from a farm and its kitchen by Jane Scotter and Harry Astley beguiles with its rythmic prose and simple food that follows the seasons and mirrors the way I like to cook.  My ice cream maker continues to be put to good use with the considerable help of Ice Creams, Sorbets & Gelati - The Definitive Guide by Caroline & Robin Weir.  Lastly,  Swallow This - Serving Up the  Food Industry's Darkest Secrets by Joanna Blythman is my invaluable reference book for navigating the murky world of the modern food processing business. My margin note on page 76, reads "feeling decidedly queasy", and it gets worse.  For me, it's Blythman who carries the baton of investigative food journalism passed on by Derek Cooper.

Brindisa - The True Food of Spain
By Monika Linton

So thoroughly have I explored these that I bought very few new books on food in 2016.  I did get Monika Linton's Brindisa - The True Food of Spain, the product of almost 30 years as a London-based Spanish food importer and, now, restaurateur.  Written from a deep knowledge, love and understanding of Spanish food this book delves into the culture and history of Spain and offers some of Spain's most loved recipes.  And Bee Wilson's First Bite: How We Learn to Eat which is full of good non-preachy advice on encouraging our children to eat well and on changing our own food habits for the better.  I also bought Do/ Preserve by Anja Dunk, Jen Goss, Mimi Beaven for a young friend as it's a great little primer for anyone new to preserving. Found it so useful that I have a copy on my sheves as well. It's aimed at the grower and forager and covers basic principles, the best preserving agents for types of food and offers over 80 recipes to get you started.  Which means there is still Salt is Essential by Shaun Hill,  Diana Henry's SimpleFresh India by Meera Sodha and Bee Wilson's This is not a Diet Book to consider.

And now 2017 is here and publications to look forward to include Sabore: My Spanish Cooking by Barrafina Executive Chef Nieves Barragan Mohacho covering her native Basque cuisine; Two Kitchens, the second book by Rachel Roddy which is to focus on Rome and Sicily; and Kaukasis, Olia Hercules's second book exploring food from the Georgian and Caucusus regions. And there are a couple of others I've heard on the grapevine may be published this year but may slip into 2018.

Pairing this list down will not be easy.  Maybe another bookshelf needs to be squeezed in after all.  Books for Cooks is still to be found in west London, by the way, though I can't guarantee you'll experience it in quite the same way I did.  I expect to be haunting Foyles in Soho and Daunt Books in Marylebone where, alas, there are no distracting aromas of food.