Thursday, 5 December 2013

Books for Food Lovers 2013 - My Selection

There are plenty of book recommendations around at this time of year.  Most concentrate on books published over the preceding 11 months.  I don't feel constrained to limit my list in this way.  Two of the books below were published in 2013 and share a certain philosophy of food; one stems from 5 years of conversations about food and hit the bookshelves in 2012; another first appeared in 2009 with my copy being from 2012; there's a paperback first published in 1997 and, sadly, as relevant now as it was 15 years ago; the final book is a 1984 encyclopedia updated in 2004.

This mix of publications over such a long period owes something to my bad habit of letting books pile up to enjoy when I can give them my full attention.  I never seem to learn that the perfect time doesn't come.  I've just discovered the Japanese have a word for this habit:

Tsundoku - buying books and not reading them, letting them pile up.

The Modern Peasant
by Jojo Tulloh
The title 'The Modern Peasant' didn't hook me, it was the subtitle 'Adventures in City Food' that did.  Rooted in this maddening, chaotic, fascinating city of London, it pays to have an adventurous spirit, not least where food is concerned.  It's not the multiplicity of cuisines on offer in this cosmopolitan metropolis that the author, JojoTulloh, finds so enthralling.  It's the new wave of small urban producers that interest her.  Buying food from them, growing some of her own and making simple food from scratch - "rediscovering an earlier tradition of cookery" - has reconnected her to the source of food.  She sees the word "peasant" not as a negative term but as a description of a person producing high quality food.  Whether they are doing so for pleasure, profit or out of necessity - these are her 'Modern Peasants'.  Read more ...

Published 2013
Book courtesy of Chatto & Winds

The Ethicurean Cookbook
The 'Ethicurians' Jack Adair-Bevan, PaĆ»la Zarate, Matthew Pennington and Iain Pennington share a philosophy: "eat local, celebrate native foods, live well." It's a credo that appeals to me, so, my attention was immediately engaged.  This book emerged from the glasshouses and kitchen garden of Barley Wood, a Georgian Estate in the bucolic Mendip Hills of Somerset.  "British seasonality, ethical sourcing of ingredients and attention to the local environment" are the declared foundations of the business which took form in 2010.  The menu changes on a daily basis according to what is available and this book is, not surprisingly, chaptered seasonally.  Recipes and techniques sit alongside vignettes of growers and suppliers, appreciating the seasons and observing local customs and festivals.

Most of the 120 recipes are striking in their simplicity, albeit in some cases calling for unusual ingredients and maybe the aid of a helpful forager - 'pineapple weed' for one.  The writing and the beautiful photographs by Jason Ingram are as seductive as the recipes.  A simple winter dish of Beetroot Carpaccio with Honeyed Walnuts glows on the plate; Ewe's-curd-stuffed Courgette Flowers with Fennel Sherbet make you feel summer can't come quickly enough; and Deepfried Aubergine with Rose Hip Syrup make you wish you'd made time to gather those hips when you had the chance.  Recipes marked by me to try this winter include Sea Robin (Gurnard) with Fennel Butter Sauce and Herbed Pink Firs and Milk Stout and Chocolate Steamed Pudding.

Published 2013
The Random House Group

McGee on Food & Cooking
by Harold McGee
If you have a culinary question, you'll almost certainly find the answer here.  First published in 1984, Harold McGee's fantastically useful encyclopedia was revised in 2004.  Hugely appreciated and valued by chefs, cooks, food writers and the plain curious, once you have this book you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.  Whether you have a question on food storage, the science of water baths, how bees make honey, how to tell whether eggs are fresh or stale, how to temper chocolate or who wrote down the first recipe for ice cream, the answer lies within these pages. Then there's the Chemistry Primer.  Invaluable.

Published 2004
Hodder & Stoughton

The Vegetarian Option
by Simon Hopkinson
It's difficult to think of a British cookery writer I admire more than Simon Hopkinson. With this book he reclaims vegetarian cooking from the bizarre world of fake meat and 'rice & veg' some vegetarians inhabit.  The chapter on 'Vegetables' is broken into Simon Hopkinson's signature style such as 'Asparagus & Artichokes', 'Ginger & Spring Onions' and 'Chillies & Avocados' - before going on to Herb, Pasta, Pulses & Grains, Rice, Eggs, Fruit.  The recipes are beautifully simple throughout, from the thoroughly English spring dish of Warm salad of asparagus and new potatoes to the Paul Bocuse inspired rich autumnal Pumpkin Soup and a Persillade of ceps & potatoes.  A dish of Congee with bok choy, golden fried garlic, green chilli & soy is definitely on my 'to cook' list, along with a Potato pie with Beaufort cheese; Blackcurrant jelly trifleDamson & almond sponge pudding and …..   This one is definitely earning its space on my bookcase.

Published 2012 (original 2009)
Quadrille Publishing Limited

Claudia Roden
The Food of Spain
It took Claudia Roden 5 years to research her most recent book The Food of Spain.  Each visit to Spain unearthed more food memories than she could have hoped for.  Each contact came up with yet another person to meet.  She would talk food favourites, festivals and folk history in kitchens as "people open up in the kitchen, not in the living room".  Most, be they workers or nobility, spoke of peasant cuisine being central to their food memories.

Claudia's thesis is that Spain's history of conquering armies meant a population on the move and tastes were, by necessity, unsophisticated. The aristocrats despised vegetables and ate meats, mostly game, though rabbits were left to the lower orders.  In Bourbon and Habsburg times the Spanish nobility ate French cuisine.  They followed the lead of King Philip V who employed cooks trained in the French court at Versailles.  The current haute cuisine in Spain, she was assured, was a cuisine of "today", though chefs claim to look to the roots of Spanish food for inspiration. 

A quote from the Catalan writer Josep Pia "A country's cuisine is its landscape in a cooking pot" is apt.  The diversity of the landscape of Spain has led to three styles of cooking: the sea; the plain; and, the mountains.  Claudia pointed out that, unlike Italy, dishes are not contained within regional borders.  Read more ...

Published 2012
Penguin Group

by Mark Kurlansky
I never thought I'd be recommending a book on the subject of Cod as a rollicking good read.  This paperback was given to me a year ago and received with polite thanks.  Finally I picked it up and couldn't put it down.  First published in 1997 it is, sadly, just as relevant today as it was then.  It's a celebration of one of nature's great gifts and what happens when we don't treat it with the respect it deserves.  The book takes you on a fast-paced ride through historical fact, folklore, fighting and fishermen's secrets.  Stuffed with detail and written in a lyrical style, Kurlansky's book is fascinating whether describing the life-cycle of the cod, the social history of a fishing community or offering guidance on 'The correct way to flush a cod' - from Hannah Glasse to W H Auden and Louis MacNeice via Emile Zola.

Published 1999
Vintage Books

Books I would like to read in 2014:

Eat by Nigel Slater
The Art of Simple Food II by Alice Waters
One Good Dish: The Pleasures of a Simple Meal by David Tanis
Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson
How to Boil an Egg by Rose Cararrini
The Honey & Co Cookbook by Itamar Srulovic & Sarit Packer (due to be published Summer 2014)

I hereby resolve not to commit Tsundoku in 2014.