Cookery Quote
Whenever you see crossed chives you are in trouble
We should all be eating less meat and better meat
Never eat anything bigger than your head

Snuffling through the book pile

It’s hard not to feel somewhat beleaguered. As the tube train rattles up to speed, cast your eye around the carriage and there will be half a dozen people with their noses pressed to electronic readers of some kind, and it’s a pound to a thimbleful of rat droppings that they will outnumber the people reading traditional books. There is a terrible power in the “latest technology”. A decade ago sending someone an email was cool – it said that you were modern, streamlined and efficient – now the email is omnipresent and the letter it replaced is an antique curiosity. Are we reduced to watching sullenly as all those beautiful hard back books slip into obscurity and dive like lemmings off the cliff?
The hiatus between the “spring list” and the “autumn list” is squarely in our sights. Publishers once faced an agonising choice – on the one hand the book could come out in time for Christmas, a big plus, or on the other hand it could come out after the Christmas frenzy had abated, also a big plus. Here are three well-written, elegant, proper, books that would grace your shelves. They are fun both to read and to cook from and are happy on a kitchen worktop. You may be able to get them in the downloadable, electronic version… but don’t.
Margot Henderson’s latest book is “You’re all Invited” and it was published during the 2012 Christmas feeding frenzy. What is most enviable about this book is the tone of voice, Margot manages to make the entire business of cooking sound calm and unstressed. The recipes work and there are all manner of good things – a take on bubble and squeak; cabbage and truffle spaghetti; veal shin and fennel; Turkish coffee cake. There is also some guidance for those days when you need to make dinner for fifteen, or fifty! And all the while everything is gentle and unhurried.
Tom Jaine runs Prospect Books hidden away in deepest Devon. As well as publishing Petits Propos Culinaires (PPC) – a small magazine that mixes erudition with food history – the Prospect Books list is awash with highly desirable books. Michael Raffael’s very good “Messy Cook” that I wrote about here to name but one. Well, Tom has published another book that is hoovering up awards – “Le Sud de France - the food and cooking of the Languedoc" by Caroline Conran. This is an old-fashioned book in the best possible way. Scholarship. Real recipes from real cooks. It is a particular joy to find out that the proper name from the plant Bladder campion is Silene Vulgaris. The book is great on mushrooms; doesn’t balk at complex creations like the Fricandeaux from the Cévennes – a kind of supercharged faggot; tells you how to make Catalan sausage. No pretty pictures. Lots of ground covered. Well written. Caroline Conran and Prospect Books have come up with a really good read.
In the war between the hard-backers and the Kindlers the glossy book-of-the-television-series is in the vanguard. Any day now BBC Books will be publishing “Rick Stein’s India – in search of the perfect curry". Initial impressions are that this tome is for looking at – about a 9 on the coffee table scale. But when you read it the book stands up. Certainly the designer has made the most of the bright colours of India and moody photographs rule the roost. Mercifully the text is not dumbed down, it may be written in easy-going Stein speak but there are some sensible things said about kokum – the sour plum; karimeen – a mercilessly bony freshwater fish; and the Cochin first class railway mutton curry. Yes, there are lots of pictures, but there are a lot of splendid recipes too.
Fight the Kindles, buy a real book.

“You’re All Invited” Published by Fig Tree, September 2012 £25
“Le Sud de France” Published by Prospect Books, October 2012 £20
“Rick Stein’s India” Published by BBC Books, June 2013 £25

Charles Campion - Monday 3rd June 2013

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