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In praise of single-subject cookbooks
When I decided to make single-subject cook and food books the focus of a newsletter, my working definition was a pretty narrow one. I was thinking along the lines of books about pie-baking or cookie making—that kind of thing. I’m particularly fond of the utilitarian single-subject ‘compendiums’ one finds in discount book stores or charity shops. They aren’t glamorous or backed by good publicity campaigns; they don’t always name the author. My now bedraggled copy of The Colossal Cookie Cookbook by Elizabeth Cohen came from a charity shop. Its recipes are a mix of the good and the not-so. “I got some great recipes from this, I also got some real duds,” reads one review. Nonetheless, it is a book I have pored over and baked from on multiple occasions despite the many 100%-reliable baking books I own that are written by far more eminent cooks. (NOTE: Have you noticed how cookie book titles tilt towards the grandiose? They are The Only Cookie Book You’ll Ever Need or The Greatest. Sometimes they are even Spectacular. One day I will write a cookie book inspired by Donald Winnicott. Its title? ‘Good Enough Cookies’.)
Pie books threw me for a loop too. How to choose? After a few days of going in ever-decreasing circles and much scouring of my Shelf of Particularised Pie Books (which includes an entire book of key lime pie recipes, children’s books about pie, pastry books in languages I cannot read, and ridiculously specific compendiums I created myself from magazine tearsheets, scribbled-down conversations and printed screenshots from social media and the like), I started to question whether ‘pie’ was too large a category to qualify as single-subject. This was totally ridiculous. It seemed better to throw the question open to some of the writers and creatives I admire, which is possibly an asshole move considering how difficult it is to choose, but a problem shared is a problem gone when you make it solely someone else’s. Here’s the brief I gave them:
“I'm researching a Tales From Topographic Kitchens newsletter edition about single-subject cookbooks and wondered if you might like to contribute. I would like to include a quote/list or whatever contribution you'd like to make about your favourite single-subject cookbook (s), why you like it (them), and if/how they have influenced your own work. Feel free to mention your own book if it falls into this category because my newsletter is no place for modesty.
Single-subject can refer to a specific philosophy or technique i.e. vegan, student, foraging, fermenting, coeliac baking; the food culture of a highly specific region and its people; the use of a specific appliance or equipment; an ingredient or food type, or a type of alcohol, brewing, or winemaking etc. They can be Comprehensively Serious Works or something more camp/kitsch/playful. Subsets of subsets are especially welcome.
I imagined I’d get one or two responses because it is a busy time of year. Boy, was I wrong. Here they are in all their glory.
John Birdsall is a former chef and the author of The Man Who Ate Too Much: A Life of James Beard. He contributes to a wide range of publications, including Food & Wine, Edible San Francisco, Bon Appétit, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Los Angeles Times, and writes a newsletter called Shifting The Food Narrative. In 2014, he won a James Beard Award for food and culture writing for “America, Your Food Is So Gay” in Lucky Peach, and another in 2016 for “Straight-Up Passing” in the queer food journal Jarry.
“At the start of 1975, Dale M. Brown, a London-based American editor for Time-Life Books, wrote to Richard Olney in France: would Olney consider being a consultant for a subscription series of how-to cooking guides? The famously crusty author of The French Menu Cookbook and Simple French Food said no at first, but the money, coupled with the possibility of doing books with what Olney would call “action photos of the preparation of real food with no artifice ormaquillage, of white plates, sober traditional cooking vessels and unencumbered work surfaces,” seduced him. The initial test volume (the series would eventually stretch to 28 books)—Classic Desserts—was published in Amsterdam in 1979. I bought my copy at some forgotten used bookshop in San Francisco in the mid-eighties. It’s been seducing me ever since. The step-by-step process photos for a collection of sweet dishes unapologetically Olney (mousse-y, French in spirit, and Sauternes-friendly, with a studied absence of frou-frou) have a startling clarity. As a young chef, I looked up to Olney as a kind of cult leader, so to see photos of the master’s veiny hands and hairy wrists unmolding a semolina pudding, or transferring a craggy-edged souffléd crepe to a stark white serving dish was like receiving a communiqué from the other side of the world. Classic Desserts contains a silent argument for finding elegance in a radical kind of culinary simplicity based on mastering a handful of techniques. The recipe anthology that follows the how-to chapters blew my mind, turning me on to authors I needed to explore: Madame Saint-Ange for Crème Peruvienne, a coffee-flavoured chocolate custard that became the center of my world; the Filipina chemist and food technologist Maria Y. Orosa, who opened my eyes to coconut flan; Irfan Orga for sütlaç, Turkish rice pudding; James Beard for Baked Alaska. Far from seeming like some specialty discipline in the kitchen—a collection of afterthoughts to a meal—I saw the recipes in Classic Desserts as the center of some of the oldest cooking traditions, linked by the common intention to turn very basic ingredients into dishes that capable of delight, free of ostentation. Classic Desserts is a quiet manifesto asserting everything I’ve come to cherish about cooking.
Lulu Grimes is the managing editor at BBC Good Food , has taught at Leiths and City University in London, and is a former food editor for Murdoch books in Sydney. She has authored six of her own books and collaborated on many more.
“I still have all the time in the day for Marvellous Meals with Mince by Josceline Dimbleby (original print run). My mum bought it when it first came out (so in the 80s), published by Sainsbury’s. I grew up in India and the Middle East on and off, and my mother taught home economics in London state schools in between, so it had plenty of recipes using spices etc, as well as fitting with shopping in Sainsbury’s (Kilburn branch) when we were in the UK. I also grew up on Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery, mine’s a 1983 print that I filched off my mother.”
Sue Lawrence is a Scottish cookery writer, trained journalist, novelist, and author of many cookbooks, including Sue Lawrence’s Book of Baking, a favourite of mine. She is also a Masterchef winner, a regular panellist on BBC Radio 4’s Kitchen Cabinet, and has been a cookery columnist for the Sunday Times and Scotland on Sunday.
“It was my year after university and though I was 22, I had never foraged. So when I arrived in the autumn, I was taken to the woods and forests to pick all sorts of mushrooms and berries and my friends pickled and dried the mushrooms and made jams and conserves with the berries. Bilberries and cloudberries, and rowanberries mainly. And mushrooms -mainly porcini and forest mushrooms. - and beautiful morels in May. Then it was all covered with deep snow from November to May. Temperatures got to -32C.
But that was when I learned about hearty dishes like Kalakukko from the east of Finland. Instead of keeping these in fridges, they kept them outside in barns which were like freezers and Karelian pies, which were spread thickly with egg butter or salmon. One of the bakes I had the most was pulla - delicious cardamom-flavoured enriched bread to have with coffee or cold milk. The dough is either made into cinnamon buns or used as a base for a sort of cheesecake with berries or rhubarb. We had elk meat and reindeer meat served with rowanberry jam And I learned to fish through the ice and cook sausages on the sauna stones….. [It was] an amazing year, teaching English ( and a little French) to the employees of a huge timber company in a town called Kemi.”
Aaron Vallance is an NHS doctor and author of 1Dish4TheRoad, which fuses food-writing with fiction, history, diversity, and family stories. He was a finalist in the Guild of Food Writers Awards for Best Online Food Writer in 2020 & 2021. He is also on Twitter.
“Storytelling, like food, has always been an essential way by which we connect with and learn about people and communities. Therefore I always love seeing stories in cookbooks, setting the scene or context, for food is never an island.
I have two cookbooks at home that take this one step further. They each draw from the deep wells of Jewish folklore and food culture and weave them together with enthusiasm and expertise.
Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple - a book I first heard about in this very newsletter - introduces each recipe with a folktale, and connects them through their common ingredient. In contrast, Rabbi Hanoch Hecht's A Kabbalah of Food starts out purely as an anthology of food-related fables before abruptly morphing into a fully-fledged recipe book.
The tales in both are beautifully crafted and have inspired me when it comes to my own writing, especially in learning how stories (whether personal, historical or folktales) can be utilised to explore food and its relationships. Not only that, but the recipes are delicious too - especially if, like me, you love your bagels and blintzes. “
Caroline Eden is an award-winning author, journalist and book critic regularly contributing to The Guardian, BBC, FT and The Times Literary Supplement. Red Sands is the latest of her three books and won an André Simon Award in 2020. She is currently writing Cold Kitchen: On Departures, Arrivals and Coming Home to the Table, a ‘kitchen-centred literary memoir’ due to be published by Bloomsbury in spring 2024.
“My choice would be Milk! by Mark Kurlansky, king of the single subject food book (his others cover cod, salt and salmon). This book, which is non-fiction but contains over 100 recipes, shows us why far more attention ought to be paid to dairy generally, where large-scale dairy farming has led us, and how it impacts climate, animal welfare and human health. Given that my research takes me to dairy-centric lands (I wrote recently about the milk habits of Kyrgyzstan, where horse milk is coveted, and nomadic dairy traditions in Kazakhstan), I found myself fascinated by Kurlansky's wide-ranging historical research of places I don't know well -- America, Cuba, Ireland -- as well as thinking more carefully about the milk I consume at home. After reading it, I now buy milk produced on an organic farm in East Ayrshire and not from supermarkets.”
Nicholas Gill is a writer with bylines in The New York Times, Saveur, New York Magazine, The Guardian, and Fool, and a photographer, lecturer, and podcaster. He has co-authored two books: Central, The Latin American Cookbook, with Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez which was A Travel + Leisure Best Fall 2021 Cookbook, and Slippurinn (2021), with Icelandic chef Gísli Matthías Auðunsson. He was consulting producer for the series Street Food: Latin America and writes the newsletter New Worlder.
“When I was working on The Latin American Cookbook with Virgilio Martinez, Paraguay was the biggest hole in my almost two decades of research into Latin American food. When I went there a few years ago, I was fortunate to spend some time with Graciela, whose book Poytáva (2017), written in Spanish and Guarani, has been fundamental in my understanding of this very distinct cuisine. The book is her life’s work, decades of working together with rural communities, and covers the full breadth of Paraguayan cuisine in 300 recipes, from chipas to celebratory foods.”
Lucinda Antal is lead for food justice at FeedbackGlobal, won the BBC Food & Farming Award for Community Champion in 2021, and is the author of FINOM, a blog about Hungarian food. Find her on Twitter where she talks about equality of food access and tweets photos of her lovely food and travels.
“First Catch by Thom Eagle re-introduced me to the concept of a food book that wasn’t just about recipes but a careful dissection of a single meal. M.K. Fisher’s food essays had captivated me years before but Thom’s careful prose made me think differently about the process of writing about food, the texture, the history and reasons why we treat an ingredient as we do. The making of food is a science, a pleasure and an art, with a host of additional factors coming into play via the sensory aspects that can (and do) lead to obsession. I enjoy this sort of deep dive into method and philosophy and, in particular, the origin and cross-fertilisation of a recipe as it travels across the continents with migrating and invading humans. Wittering on Twitter with other food obsessives has led to wonderful conversations about the myriad culinary influences that transform ingredients into similar but not “quite” the same dishes.”
Andrew Janjigian is a baking teacher, prolific and meticulous recipe developer, writer, and photographer. He writes and develops recipes for Serious Eats, King Arthur Baking, Epicurious, and Edible Boston, among others, alongside his ‘breadcational’ newsletter, Wordloaf, which was nominated for an IACP Award, in the Newsletter category in 2021.
“One of my favorite cookbooks, baking or otherwise, is Man’oushé: Inside the Lebanese Street Corner Bakery, by Barbara Abdeni Massaad. This full-color, large-format hardback book is a love letter to the topped flatbread that is as fundamental to Lebanese life as pizza is to Italians. While the recipes are comprehensive and impeccably crafted, the book pays equal tribute to the professional bakers and home cooks who are at the heart of this vibrant culture. Man’oushé has yet to achieve the status in world food culture that it truly deserves, but when that day arrives, it will no doubt be in part thanks to this wonderful, essential book. “
Melissa Martin is a chef, award-winning cookbook author and owner of New Orleans-based Mosquito Supper Club. Her book Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes From a Disappearing Bayou won IACP’s Book of the Year Award. She was also a finalist in the Best Chef: South category in 2022’s James Beard Awards.
“Consider the Oyster by MFK. I learned so much about oysters in a humorous way. I'm from a family of oyster fishermen: my dad, grandfather, great grandfather etc all did the back-breaking work of tonging for oysters. I'm enamored with how much the industry has changed with technology and the history of the bi-valve.
In my writing, I am always trying to link human emotions and the struggle to be human with nature. Nature shows us every life lesson we need if we just pay attention. Fischer inherently knew these things and delivered them in elegant prose with her masterpiece, Consider the Oyster. There are some recipes too.
In raising a transgender child I always remembered the line "He is she and she is he": being fluid is a part of humanity. In trying to get our children through their teen years, this line fits perfectly, "The oyster leads a dreadful but exciting life. Indeed, his chance to live at all is slim, and if he should survive the arrows of his own outrageous fortune and, in the two weeks of his carefree youth, find a clean, smooth place to fix on, the years afterwards are full of stress, passion, and danger." If we make it through those dangerous teenage years through our twenties, then there is still a lot in store for us, but those years are by far the worse, and getting our children through them is a frightening time. And for being a woman in the political theocracy, we find ourselves shoved back. I like this line, "Life is hard, we say. An oyster's life is worse. She lives motionless, soundless, her own cold, ugly shape her only dissipation."
Adán Medrano is a chef and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, food writer, filmmaker and author of ‘Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes’, which was a Book Of The Year Finalist in The Foreword Reviews. His recent documentary feature film, Truly Texas Mexican, won “Best Documentary” at the New York Independent Cinema Awards.
“I can think of Chef Sean Sherman's cookbook, "The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen." the single subject is a return to Native American fare. I love this cookbook because the philosophy is one of rootedness in the land, the creation of beauty with food, and sharing with all peoples. The recipes are sophisticated, using indigenous ingredients available today, and reveal how complex, nuanced and delicious they are.
Along the same lines is my book about the Native American people of Texas, the indigenous culinary heritage of my family and ancestors, Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes”.
Mark Diacono is a writer, cook, gardener and photographer. In 2020 his book HERB was shortlisted for a James Beard award and he has won awards from Andre Simon and the Guild of Food Writers. He is the founder of Otter Farm, writer of the newsletter The Imperfect Umbrella and is soon to publish SPICE.
“In the late 90s, in a small Suffolk village, I tasted my first mulberry, inadvertently setting in motion a snake of toppling dominoes that has shaped my life since. This was the finest fruit I’d eaten, and - being too delicate to suit the food system - I knew I’d have to grow them to eat them. We bought a patch of land; I slipped into the bath to read Grigson’s Fruit Book to daydream about what I’d do with the mulberries I’d harvest from the trees I was about to plant. I accidentally turned to Medlars, read her words and my planting list now had two species on it. And so it went: her words about flavour and ideas for combinations, her recipes and the way she wrote influenced what I planted, what I did with the fruit and my early attempts at writing. It is still my desert island food book.”
Margaux Vialleron (@margauxvlln) is a French-born, London-based food writer, panellist and novelist. Her debut novel, The Yellow Kitchen, was published in July 2022 and has been selected as July Indie Book of the Month. Margaux handles translation rights sales at David Higham and co-writes the newsletter Salmon Pink Kitchen.
“Cucina Toscana: Ricette di casa mia (Libreria Editrice Fiorentina, 1992) is a pocket book I picked up last summer in an antique bookshop in Florence. The book is divided into four sections (antipasti, primi, secondi and dolci), and the recipes are brief and light in detail – no ingredients list, no measurements, but an authoritative, single paragraph. This is a recipe anthology that makes me feel at home in my kitchen: it’s like having my grandmother instructing me to cut the courgettes in cubes when I’m making ratatouille but omitting to give me information about cooking times. I’ve found that when I’m going back to traditional cooking, it’s more often about texture than it is about method; it’s the one detail that is perpetuated from one generation to the next that makes a recipe a tradition. This small orange book works this magic in my kitchen.”
Kevin Geddes is the author of Keep Calm and Fanny On! The Many Careers of Fanny Cradock and a tribute to Fanny Cradock’s Christmas, It’s All In The Booklet (Fantom Publishing 2019). He is an Edinburgh-based writer, speaker, researcher, academic, blogger at Keep Calm and Fanny On, and presenter. He is currently working towards a PhD researching the history and development of television cooking programmes in Britain from 1936 to 1976.
“My entire life has been taken over by researching early television cooks in recent years. I’m so happy about it, they are a joy to spend time with. Most of their pioneering television appearances may be lost, wiped or missing (sob, sniff - forever), but their cookbooks thankfully endure. Just as they experimented and innovated on screen, paving the way for what we watch today, in print, they produced a wide variety of titles, subjects and treatments. Amongst the piles and piles of books which surround me daily (did I mention the joy?), there are some that I just have to go back to time and time again. Many deal with single subjects, so it’s easy to dive in when I have a craving for a particular thing (okay, that describes most of my days)… Some very favourite examples are:
The Book of Foil Cookery (Spectator 1967) – because ‘no economical home cook can afford to be without foil’ and maybe, just maybe, you are at a loss over what to do with it;
X Marcel Boulestin: Potatoes: One Hundred and One Ways of Cooking (Heinemann 1932) – everyone needs a potato cookbook;
Eggs: One Hundred and Twenty Ways of Cooking (Heinemann 1932) – eggs deserve an extra nineteen recipes, of course;
Savouries and hors-d’oeuvres: One Hundred and Twenty-Seven Ways of Cooking (Heinemann 1932) – the publishers drew the line at one hundred and twenty-seven;
Philip Harben: The Book of the Frying Pan (Bodley Head 1960) – for all your home frying needs. Philip also had his own frying pan company, Harbenware, entirely coincidentally;
Imperial Frying (Bodley Head 1961) – he was obsessed;
Fanny Cradock: Coping With Christmas (Fontana 1968) – Fanny’s top tip for coping was to begin preparations in January and work tirelessly all-year-round;
Fanny Cradock’s Christmas Cookery (BBC 1975) – which accompanied her infamous television series. Even she was slightly fed-up with Christmas food by then;
As they tend to, these themes are coming around again, with wonderful single-subject cookbooks appearing more and more. Philip Harben would be so proud (and mildly grumpy) to see Hot Fat by Russell Alford and Patrick Hanlon (the glorious Gastrogays) published by Blasta Books this year. Perhaps their follow-up will focus solely on potatoes? Fanny Cradock would be in tears of envy but Regula Ysewijn did not disappoint with the Downton Abbey Christmas Cookbook (Titan Books 2020). I have even published my own tribute to Fanny Cradock’s Christmas, It’s All In The Booklet (Fantom Publishing 2019). I wonder if anyone would snap up a proposal reworking The Book Of Foil Cookery?”
Jake Tilson is an artist, graphic designer and author whose work has been exhibited around the world. His first cookbook, A Tale of 12 Kitchens (2006), won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award and was shortlisted for both the Andre Simon Award and the Glenfiddich Award. Jake is a trustee of the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery and a collection of his menu designs for their yearly Symposium meals can be found on their website. Later this year, Jake will be contributing to Tales From Topographic Kitchens.
“Published fifty years ago, my single-subject cookbook suggestion is based on an idea that still seems revolutionary. Mediterranean Seafood by Alan Davidson, 1972, inverted the structure of most cookbooks at the time. Not wanting to be constricted by the current national boundaries around the Mediterranean coastline, his book focuses instead on the bounties of the sea itself - fish, crustacea and molluscs. It's a piece of lateral thinking that reminds me of the world maps made from Buckminster Fuller's projection of the earth's surface onto a cuboctahedron, which he called Dymaxion (1943). They challenge your view of our planet. One version of his projection has the oceans at its centre, the land masses seem to dwindle into insignificance around the edges.
The starting point for Mediterranean Seafood had been Davidson self-publishing an English guide to seafood encountered in Tunisian markets and restaurants in the 1960s - printed on a roneo office machine. This low-tech start led him to write his first book.
Scientific naming and biological classification are key here. I have many cookbooks that are based on taxonomy, such as Jane Grigson's wonderful books on fruit and vegetables. Where Davidson’s book differs is the abandonment of alphabetic order - genius. So Brill and Turbot, two sinistral flatfish of the scophthalmidae family, are next to each other rather than being shunted apart by the alphabet. Many of the characteristics of a specific fish family determine how they are prepared and cooked. Mediterranean Seafood is organised by fish, crustacea and molluscs with many entries having notes on “cuisine” and page numbers for regional recipes at the back of the book. As anyone who has tried to shop for fish in a foreign market will know, it’s essential to know the local names for seafood - Davidson provides local names for everything. I carry it with me on trips to Italy alongside an up-to-date sustainable fish-to-eat guide.”
Melissa Thompson runs the food and recipe project Fowl Mouths, develops recipes and writes a monthly column for BBC Good Food, and has published recipes and features in The Guardian. She has won awards for Food Writer of the Year at the Guild of Food Writers and is co-director of the Food Season at the British Library. Her debut book, Motherland, is out this September.
“ Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Meat book. Slightly biased as he was in Dorset with River Cottage and so was I; it's where I come from and I was there working on the local paper when it came out.
It's a single-subject book but comprehensive and it felt like a bible to me. I learnt a lot about meat and different cuts, as well as the importance of good provenance, which I was already interested in, but it furthered that interest. Also, the recipes are great, including one for Curry Goat that didn't make me want to scratch my eyes out.”
Nik Sharma writes the popular newsletter, This is A Cook Letter and has a website, The Brown Table. He is a columnist at Serious Eats and author of three books, including his most recent, The Flavor Equation, which won two IACP awards, was shortlisted in the Guild of Food Writers Awards 2021, longlisted in The Art of Eating Prize 2021 and named Book of the Year by Delicious Magazine U.K.
“As a food writer and biochemist who is passionate about flavor and understanding the myriad ways by which people appreciate flavors across the globe, I'm drawn to books that explain their reasonings and method and, of course, their flavor combinations should be unexpected. Life is short and to live it without trying out new ingredients or foods is my single biggest fear.
The single-subject cookbooks that strongly influenced my work are and continue to inform me include:
Flavor Flour by Alice Medrich-
This book is brimming with wisdom from the celebrated baker and chocolate queen, Alice Medrich. The book made me appreciate flours from different grains for their unique flavors but also made me rethink how I approach my own baking and desserts. The details on how to manipulate different grains to recreate familiar textures but also show how flavors from grains can have a remarkable impact on the outcome of a dish is what stood out to me. For anyone wanting to get out of the rut of wheat flours but also just to experience and enjoy the beauty of other grains, this is book is a treasure.
Salt, Sugar, Smoke by Diana Henry -
The first book by Diana Henry that I purchased and that one that made me immediately fall in love with her prose and style of cooking. As a hobby, I like to can and preserve fruits but at the time, I'd become bored with the usual stuff I made. I remember looking for books that approached fruit preservation from a flavor standpoint and came across Salt, Sugar, Smoke by Diana Henry. When I opened the book and read through it, I found myself imagining working in Diana's kitchen making her melon jam with her guiding me along the way. This remains one of the seminal books that taught me to appreciate flavor combinations and food writing as pure joy. As a food writer and recipe developer, this book made me realize why I started to write about food in the first place because I love it. Of course, all her books are masterpieces but this one is particularly close to my heart.
Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams by Jeni Britton Bauer-
I love ice creams and will make them year-round. Jeni B. Bauer's book is one of the best out there and especially geared towards home cooks. She also goes through great detail in explaining why each and every ingredient is used in the recipe and how they contribute to the structure of the ice cream soft and creamy. Her flavor combinations are also strong and even if you don't eat ice cream this is a good book to read because her concepts on flavor can be applied elsewhere to your cooking.
Dr Juneisy Hawkins is a teacher, writer and food historian who holds a PhD. Her field is United States History and she specializes in food economies, provisioning, and Anglo-Spanish relations in the colonial American Southeast in an Atlantic World context. Find her on IG at @historicalfoodways and via her website, www.historicalfoodways.com.
“I've been thinking about these questions a lot because I don't really own many single-subject cookbooks. The one that comes to mind is True Brews by Emma Christensen. While the book has recipes for cider, kombucha, sake, etc., the ones that won me over were ginger ale and strawberry soda. I never knew that soda could taste so fresh. Because they are made with fresh ingredients, the flavor of these two sodas is incredible. I haven't been able to drink commercial ginger ale again. I've never had commercial strawberry soda but I'm sure that would have been ruined too if I had. The best part is that these drinks are quite simple to make, and you don't need any special equipment like a Soda Stream or mechanical carbonation devices. They are carbonated with champagne yeast, which is considerably less expensive than those other gadgets.”
Pete Brown is a writer, speaker, consultant and author specialising in food and drink. Clubland: How the Working Men's Club Shaped Britain, is his latest book, published June 2022. He has written 12 books in total, one of which was BBC Radio 4’s Book of the week in 2016, writes for newspapers and magazines and is a regular contributor to radio and podcasts. Named British Beer Writer of the Year in 2009, 2012, 2016 and 2021, he has won three Fortnum & Mason Food and Drink Awards, been shortlisted twice for the Andre Simon Awards, and in 2020 was named an “Industry Legend” at the Imbibe Hospitality Awards.
Being a white, middle-class, middle-aged bloke, it’s inevitable that I should have an interest in barbecue. I graduated from burn sausages and raw chicken a long time ago, but found myself stuck in American “Bro-b-q” and its needless macho posturing. Mallman redefined what cooking over an open fire meant to me and opened my eyes not just to his own South American-influenced cuisine but also to cooking over fire as it plays out around the world.
There are no recipes in this book - instead, it inspires you to create your own. At the time it was published, the beer community was desperate to elevate the standing of beer in culinary circles. Garrett just writes as if beer already is taken seriously, treating it just like you would any other great aspect of food and drink. It doesn’t try to argue that beer deserves a place at the table - it acts as if it’s already there.”
Allan Jenkins is editor of Observer Food Monthly, writes a popular gardening column for the Observer Magazine, and is the author of Plot 29, which was long-listed for Baillie Gifford and Wellcome Prizes, Morning, and J Sheekey Fish. He has worked with Lemn Sissay, a trustee at The Foundling Museum. His Instagram account is rather lovely.
“From the masterpieces: A Book of Middle Eastern Food, Mediterranean Cookery, and The Book of Jewish Food through to her recent work, Med, I am a longtime devotee of Claudia Roden. It was from her I learned about preserved lemons, pizzaladiere, pastilla, tabbouleh, orange and almond cake. My palate and store cupboards altered. Through her I discovered new flavours, new worlds. A kitchen liberation.”
Sejal Sukhadwala published her first book, The Philosophy of Curry, this year. She is an established food writer and is currently writing an Indian food encyclopaedia. She has written for Londonist, Eater London, the Guardian and other publications, and has also contributed recipes to BBC Food. Her Twitter feed never fails to entertain and inform.
“A5-sized cookbooks are a curious, somewhat eccentric phenomenon in Indian publishing: miniature books by long-established household-name cookery writers and celebrity chefs like Nita Mehta and Sanjeev Kapoor (to give two of many examples). These authors already have regular full-length cookbooks – but these are kitsch, colourful, cheaper offshoots with a distinctly retro feel that focus on a vast range of single subjects, such as corn recipes, snacks for children and cooking for people with iron deficiency.
The recipes are either extracted from the authors’ main cookbooks, slightly adapted or even specially written. They can be entirely hit and miss. You might find spaghetti with tomato ketchup billed as a ‘Continental’ dish, glacé cherries added to a pulao to make it ’Kashmiri’ or a curry garnished with silver leaf passed off as ‘Mughlai.’ On the other hand, you’ll unexpectedly come across a detailed explanation of a barely-remembered technique or ingredient or an amazing recipe for a little-known regional speciality.
The pages are sometimes stuck together, there might be misprints, and pictures don’t always correspond with page numbers – but these little books give an invaluable insight into the changing face of urban Indian home cooking from the 1970s onwards. They’re sometimes found languishing in the far corners of London’s Indian grocery and kitchenware stores – I make a grab for them over and above anything else.”
Jonathan Nunn is the founder and co-editor of Vittles, a hugely popular food and culture newsletter conceived during Lockdown, and based in the UK and India. He has written for the Guardian, Eater London, and Mr Porter, among others and is the editor of London Eats Itself, a book of essays which will be published in September 2022. Find Jonathan at @demarionunn on Twitter.
“Florence White begins her 1932 book Good Things in England with a howitzer of a line: ‘This book is an attempt to capture the charm of England’s cookery before it is completely crushed out of existence,’ levelling most of the blame at the door of the French. From this first line you might expect that White's book is in keeping with the tone of post-industrialisation English cookery writing which has an amnesiac quality. Since Acton, or perhaps even before, English food has constantly been on the verge of extinction and must always be rediscovered and re-remembered, usually by looking towards the continent. This strand of food writing reached its apotheosis eighteen years later with the publication of Elizabeth David's Mediterranean Cooking and French Country Cooking, which outright stated the supremacy of Italian and French peasant traditions as a matter of immutable culture and geography.
Good Things in England may have influenced David, but I'd take it over all her cookbooks. It looks forward, rather than just across or backwards, and points towards the road we could have taken, one which seems more interesting than trying to ape the French again. 'Our kitchen has more in common with America than any other country,' White notes, and it is to America not France she recommends we turn to if we want to improve English cooking, to learn from how American women have developed a national cuisine that both preserves the integrity of the past but also moves forward along individual lines. More presciently, White says there are two other influences we should absorb: the Commonwealth and the countries we actually share geography with, particularly Denmark, Holland and Scandinavia. David's book may have been hugely influential on restaurant culture in the 1980s with the invention of the European-accented Modern British, but look at the English food scene now, particularly in London. It's not exactly what White envisaged, but just look at its obsession with Americana, the influences and ingredients from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Caribbean, Hong Kong, and Nigeria, and how every small restaurant and wine bar uses the nativist framework of the New Nordic movement, and it's hard not to argue that ultimately, 90 years after it was written, White's vision of English cookery has won out.
One of the benefits of working in the London Library, apart from always feeling like you're doing work when actually you've spent 8 hours checking your emails and looking at Twitter, is immediate access to British food writing unavailable anywhere else and the creeping feeling that everything under the sun has already been written. Take A Guide for the Greedy By a Greedy Woman, for instance, a slip of a book written by Elizabeth Robins Pennell, that argues for the reclamation by women of not just the kitchen from important men ('the kitchen still awaits its Sappho'), but also its attendants, such as appetite and greed. The opening line, 'Gluttony is ranked with the deadly sins; it should be honoured among the cardinal virtues,' could have been a tweet by Nigella, but just so happens to have been written in 1896.
Florence B. Jack's Invalid Cooking Book, first published in 1926 via the magazine Good Housekeeping, is very much in this vein. It takes ill health and disability as its single subject and focuses on food, not as ornamentation and lifestyle nor even as documentation and remembrance, but as care (the book was not written for people with disabilities or illness to cook from themselves, but for their carers). 'The preparation of food for the sick is one of the most important branches of cooking and one which ought not to be neglected,' it says, emphasising the positive effect that surprise and enjoyment can have on a patient, rather than simply how fortifying or healthy a meal is ('as a broad rule, the meal that is fancied and enjoyed is the one which will do the patient the most good'). The book doesn't try to match foods with illnesses or occasions, but is conscious of the fact that many people will need to be fed, or may not have the ability to chew. There is a focus on broths, soups and soft foods - fish is turned into steamed puddings, creams and omelettes, meat cooking emphasises soft offal, stewed sheep tongue, scrambled brains, sweetbreads, and potted meat. The pudding section requires little invention, given all English puddings are, in effect, nursery food. It reminds me very much of Ruby Tandoh's article on cooking in care homes for Vittles, and what food might look like if care was its highest virtue. If published today it would still feel genuinely progressive, sitting alongside Tandoh's Cook as You Are and other cookbooks which prioritise cooking as care, once again, as the most important branch of cooking.”
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