If you want to buy a food book for someone this Christmas, you will have no difficulty choosing from the celebrity chefs and TV tie ins: Tom Kerridge, Yottam Ottolenghi, James Martin, Gordon Ramsay, Carluccio, Delia, Jamie, Hugh and Mary.
Peter Brears (in black hat) at Harewood House Jelly Festival
But we think there are many interesting, talented food writers out there who you may not have heard of, that also deserve to be read and we’d like to tell you about some of them. Here are the books that have sparked our interest this year and we hope you will like them too.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking – A Memoir of Food and Longing By Anya von Bremzen
Not a recipe book, though it does have a handful of recipes, but the story of Anya von Bremzen’s life growing up in the Soviet Union. She describes with both humour and nostalgia her experiences of communal kitchens, empty shelves, food queues and making friends with foreign embassy kids in order to score Juicy Fruit chewing gum. As well as her own story of love and longing, she charts seven decades of Soviet life through food: Lenin’s bloody grain requisitioning, WWII starvations and the deprivations and excesses of the Stalin, Krushchev and Gorbachov eras. It won The Guild of Food Writer’s Book of the Year Award, (I confess to being a jury member). It’s my book of the year and I love it.
Honey & Co Itamar Srulovich & Sarit Packit
This book by Israeli husband and wife team Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packit is based on the food they serve at their London restaurant Honey & Co, a very on-trend place having received a cracking review from Jay Rayner and subsequently won the Observer Food Monthly, Best Small Restaurant Award. The book is a delicious collection of the food they serve in what is no more than a café in London’s Warren Street, but it’s our kind of food: relaxed, uncheffy, with flavours of the Levant and a touch of Ottolenghi (Sarit worked there for a time). I’ve only had it a couple of months and the pages are already splattered.
Spoonful of Honey by Hattie Ellis
We’ve much enjoyed this book by Hattie Ellis reviewed in full here. Packed with detail about the huge range of honeys available, the life and times of the honey bee and a lovely collection of recipes.
Traditional Food in Yorkshire by Peter Brears
A work of true scholarship by historian Peter Brears, who if you haven’t come across him is the former curator of York’s Castle Museum and Leeds City Museum, consultant to the National Trust and English Heritage, has written the standard work on medieval dining and is the world authority on jelly. This book is an updated and much expanded (double the size) version of the book he wrote in 1987, in it Peter Brears looks at the staple foods of Yorkshire’s past: porridge, oatcakes, bread, meat fish, puddings and cakes. He explains how, when and where they were eaten with chapters on weddings and funerals, feasts, fairs and customs. Peter Brears was our neighbour when we lived in Leeds, so I went back to interview him for the Yorkshire Post. You can read about his life and times here, but if you have any interest in Yorkshire and its history through food, then this book should be on your book shelf.
Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper by Fuchsia Dunlop
Another favourite of mine is this wonderful memoir by Fuchsia Dunlop. It was published in 2011, but I only came across it a month ago and devoured it in a couple of days. Fuchsia travelled to Sichuan Province vowing to eat everything, however bizarre, that was put in front of her. She took a professional’s chefs course – the first westerner ever to do so, and in the following years travelled around the country immersing herself in Chinese culture through its food. It’s a fascinating insight into real Chinese food, funny and entertaining as well. A great read.
Green Kitchen & Green Kitchen Travels By David Frenkiel & Luise Vindahl
We were put onto the Green Kitchen blog by Joan, and so snapped up the book when it came out in spring. It’s written by an impossibly beautiful young Swedish/Danish couple, David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl. David is a magazine art director so the photography and styling is fabulous. Luise is a Nutritional Therapist so packs it with health-giving recipes like herb and pistachio falafel and stone fruit salad with goat’s cheese. Many of the recipes are gluten free and vegan and while they sometimes ask for recherché ingredients like kamut flour and kelp noodles most dishes use easily found ingredients. We haven’t yet seen a copy of their latest book Green Kitchen Travels, but it was pick of the year on BBC Radio 4 Food Programme and that’s good enough for us.
The Smitten Kitchen, Deb Perelman
Another blog we love is Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen. A New Yorker who writes like you’re her best friend gives us recipes that are homely, accessible and unfussy, which is just how we like ’em. She covers breakfast dishes, mains, tarts, pizza and sweet things. Perelman was a vegetarian for a decade so understands what makes a tasty and interesting non-meat dish and there are plenty in this book like her linguine with cauliflower pesto or leek fritters with garlic and lemon. Every recipe too has a story to tell, so if you are the kind of person who likes to take a cookery book to bed there is plenty of bedtime reading here.