It was not easy AT ALL picking out the books to talk about at my Kate Spade literary cookbook salon last week. Although many of my food books are still in storage (London flats only have so much room), the four shelves in the kitchen bookcase are packed full, with a couple of extra towering piles on the floor for luck.
I pulled out what I could without dismantling the towers and burying myself. In the end I had four sections to talk about: cookbooks I grew up with, cookbooks I’ve bought recently, cookbooks I discovered in America, and books about food. I brought far too many books, but it was so hard to edit my piles…
Here is my list of the books I spoke about, along with some of the suggestions from the lovely salon attendees.
I’d love to know what your suggestions might be for other books we might have talked about – do leave some ideas in the comments.
Here is my list, and some of the suggestions from the lovely salon attendees. I’d love to know what your suggestions might be – do leave some ideas in the comments.
Italian Food by Elizabeth David
This is the first cookbook that I bought, aged maybe eight, from the bookstall at a school jumble sale on our village green. (Yes, I was *that* odd solitary child who read ALL the time.) My mother loved David’s books, so I recognised the name, and bought it for pennies. This is not just a collection of recipes, but a series of mini essays, all in David’s inimitable voice.
This is a 1960s edition with the original line illustrations. It’s worth seeking out one of the early versions, because it has lots of asterisks all the way through linking to David’s terse comments contradicting various bits of advice from the first edition, which was written whilst Britain was still recovering from rationing, Bel Paese was thought an acceptable sub for mozzarella, and olive oil was bought in small bottles from chemists.
The Mushroom Feast by Jane Grigson
Another classic English cookery writer, Grigson was known for getting to the heart of her subjects in forensic detail. Anything and everything you have ever wanted to know about mushrooms (my favourite food) is within the boards of this literary cookbook. (There’s a riff on one of the mushroom soups from this book in my cookbook Friends, Food, Family.)
Book of Cakes by Delia Smith
A cult classic. I love this book: it’s the one my mother baked from every Wednesday afternoon when we were little, and I think she must have made everything in it. Totally foolproof, with recipes for pretty much everything you might want to bake in the traditional British canon, from Richmond Maids of Honour to Brownies, via wedding cake and Parkin.
Leith’s Complete Cookery Bible by Prue Leith
A strong contender for ‘if you only buy one cookbook, then make it this one’. If you need to fillet a sole, roast and carve a rack of lamb, bake bread, make a pudding, or tackle preserving, this book tells you how. It’s modern enough to feel like it recognises 21st century food trends, but old fashioned enough to make you feel like your culinary hand is being held. It has all the skills and techniques you need to become a competent cook.
My copy is knackered – a gift from my godmother Rachie when I went off to Uni, but it’s been recently completely overhauled and re-issued, (by my publisher Quadrille) as Leith’s How To Cook.
Eastern Vegetarian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey
This is the book I cooked my way through whilst at university, often making supper for fifteen on a budget of £10 or so. It makes absolutely no compromises where the integrity of the recipes is concerned: if a recipe needs ten cloves of garlic, or three days prep, then that is what Jaffrey specifies.
I’ve never had a failure cooking from this book, much of it can be cooked on a very, very tight budget and, most importantly, it all tastes properly authentic. (The spiced chickpea tomato dish is still in my repertoire.)
Food from Plenty by Diana Henry
I grew up in the country, with a mother who always tried to cook with what was in season, with limited funds. This modern book is all about these things, about thrift in the nicest possible way.
Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon by Claudia Roden
THE queen of Levantine cooking and scholarship, Roden laid the path for Ghayour, Ottolenghi et al. This, one of her later books, written in 2005, sees Roden return to Morocco, Turkey & Lebanon in search of both new and old recipes and to find out how cooking has evolved since she first introduced us to these cuisines in the 1960s.
Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East & Beyond by Sabrina Ghayour
Deservedly winning Cookbook of the Year at The Observer Food Monthly Awards 2014 last month, the lovely Sabrina has pulled together a collection of authentic and delicious recipes, which call on her own culinary heritage.
I also wanted to bring along some of my American favourites, reflecting my years spent living around New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Tartine by Elizabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson
Tartine, a bakery in San Francisco’s Mission District is possibly the most famous bakery in the US. This book covers all the basics, as well as modern American baking ideas. The best thing for European cooks is that it specifies both volume (cups) and weight measurements. It’s rigorously checked so everything works. And the pate brisee recipe is out of the world.
One Good Dish by David Tanis
Simple, delicious food by one of America’s most interesting food writers. The philosophy of simplicity and reverence with which Panis treats his ingredients becomes wholly understandable when you learn that he worked with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse for over twenty years. All his books are wonderful, beautifully designed, and lovely to read. Do check out his columns for The New York Times too.
The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese Food by Charles Phan
Ah there is clearly a San Francisco theme going on here. The Slanted Door is one of my favourite restaurants ANYWHERE, serving clean, clear Vietnamese flavours in a beautiful space in The Ferry Market. Phan’s first book, Vietnamese Home Cooking is hideously designed but a wonderful primer and introduction to the region’s food. This year’s follow up is based on his restaurant food, and is as good to read as it is to cook from. And if you get to SF, do eat at any of his restaurants – even if you can only make it to the brilliantly named takeaway bench of The Slanted Door: Out The Door.
Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas McNamee
The definitive biography of the doyenne of modern American restaurants. This is the story of how Alice Waters founded Chez Panisse and changed the way America looked at food. Waters comes across as uncompromising and stubborn – a nightmare for investors and backers, but always clear in her vision. A great book if you plan to run a restaurant, and a riveting portrait of what appears to be a very difficult woman.
Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century by Laura Shapiro
An entertaining and erudite social history of women and cooking in America at the beginning of the twentieth century. If you ever wondered why Americans are obsessed with jelly (Jell-0) in salads, this book has the answers.
Best Food Writing 2014 by Holly Hughes
I love these anthologies, which I buy every year. Hughes brings together food-based essays around ingredients, history, nutrition, cookery, sociology, and everything in between from writers all around the world. Good for when the joys of a family Christmas become, um, overwhelming: escaping to read a chapter in the loo with a box of chocs is very restorative.
With Bold Knife and Fork by M.E.K. Fisher
This is just one of her many books of essays, an amalgam of food literature, recipes, travel and memoir, possibly her best. Fisher believed that eating well was just one of the “arts of life” and there’s a strong argument that she is the best food writer America has ever produced. I don’t think you can be interested in food and food writing without having read her work.
There were some great suggestions from the book salon attendees:
Home at 7, Dinner at 8 by Sophie Wright
How to get supper on the table in just under an hour with little or no fuss.
Flavour Thesarus by Niki Segnit The secret of how flavours work together, putting together some surprising ingredients. If you ever wondered what to put with the last ingredient in the fridge, then this book will always have the answer.
Thai Cookery Secrets by Kris Dhillon How to create delicious Thai dishes using easily available ingredients and with surprisingly little effort.
Simply Cook Subscription Recipe cards, with exactly the right amount of spices so that you never have stale jars of spices kicking about.
Melt by Claire Kelsey 60 of Kelsey’s favourite ice cream recipes, ranging from Easy Berry Ripple to Vanilla in a Chocolate Brownie Sandwich, and from crunchy Marmalade on Toast to Olive Oil and Smoked Sea Salt.
Sydney Food by Bill Granger Now living in London, and running his eponymous restaurants over here, Granger was the Australian restaurateur and his books are full of sunshine and Asia-Pacific cooking. Always delicious.
Unraveling the System of Baking by K Aihara. A Japanese step-by-step guide to baking
(not available online in the UK)
Huge thanks to my friends at Kate Spade for hosting and supporting the LibertyLondonGirl / Friends, Food, Family Book Salon.