For the love of books

Leaf­ing back through 30 years of writ­ing for home cooks

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - ANNABEL LANGBEIN

Trav­el­ling around the South Is­land on my book­sign­ing tour this month, I’ve been re­minded of how many pas­sion­ate book lovers there are be­hind the coun­ters at book­stores around the coun­try. Today is New Zealand Book­shop day, so it’s the per­fect time to cel­e­brate the im­por­tant role that book­shops and their ded­i­cated staff play in our lives.

I have more rea­son than most to be grate­ful to our coun­try’s many won­der­ful book­sellers. It’s 30 years since I stood in my garage look­ing at the thou­sands of copies of my first book that had just been de­liv­ered, hot off the press, won­der­ing how on earth I was go­ing to sell them. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to be strongly sup­ported by book­stores across the coun­try, and to­gether we’ve sold lit­er­ally hun­dreds of thou­sands of cook­books and helped put mil­lions of tasty meals on the ta­bles of New Zealan­ders.

When I look at the cover of my first cook­book, with its bowl of green-shell mus­sels sit­ting on a bal­cony look­ing out past ba­nana palms to Auck­land Har­bour, ev­ery­thing about the mak­ing of that project comes flood­ing back. And that hair! Oh yes, I re­mem­ber that hair, and all the padded shoul­ders that went with it! Just like that, I’m back in 1987, sit­ting on the floor of my liv­ing room with de­signer Sally Hol­lis-McLeod, sur­rounded by lay­outs, un­der­tak­ing the painstak­ing process of cut­ting out strips of copy that had ty­pos or gram­mat­i­cal er­rors, and past­ing new ones back on to the lay­out. It’s hard to imag­ine now, but be­fore the dig­i­tal era, that was what we had to do! De­cid­ing which recipes to in­clude from the col­umns I’d writ­ten for the NZ Lis­tener, and cu­rat­ing them into chap­ters around events and rit­u­als, was a gi­ant, com­plex jig­saw puzzle. But I was hooked – from that mo­ment on all I wanted was to make cook­books.

Be­tween book num­ber one and num­ber 26 (my lat­est an­nual, Cheap Thrills) there have been some amaz­ing mo­ments. Mak­ing my TV show, The Free Range Cook, and the books that went with it was another high. The first, The Free Range Cook, broke New Zealand pub­lish­ing records, sell­ing more than 160,000 copies in less than a year. Wow, that was a mo­ment — for me and for the book in­dus­try!

More re­cently I’ve en­joyed ex­plor­ing a soft-cover “bookazine” for­mat that reads more like a magazine than a book (but with­out all those an­noy­ing ads!) I love the way an­nu­als like Cheap Thrills al­low me to layer in life­style in­spi­ra­tion with ideas and recipes around a theme or se­ries of themes, and my book­seller friends tell me the af­ford­able price tag has helped my recipes reach a whole new au­di­ence. The idea of help­ing to cre­ate change in peo­ple’s lives is what makes me want to leap out of bed in the morn­ing.

When I look at Es­sen­tial, my big­gest and most beau­ti­ful book project ever, I see the cul­mi­na­tion of this jour­ney in a com­pre­hen­sive col­lec­tion of the best of all the recipes I have cooked over the past 30 years.

Food is like fash­ion. While the dishes I have cooked may have looked dif­fer­ent over the years, and in­creas­ingly em­brace a global pantry of flavours, at their heart is the idea of hon­our­ing and re­spect­ing na­ture, and a be­lief in nour­ish­ment, love and friend­ship. I look for­ward to shar­ing that as I con­tinue my tour of South Is­land book­shops in the days ahead.

This week’s recipes fea­ture on the cov­ers of three of my mile­stone books, and tell the story of how our cook­ing has changed over the years – from a tra­di­tional mus­sel dish from my first book (fondly known as “the pink book”), to the Kiwi favourite roast pork from 2010’s The Free Range Cook, and an on-trend fried rice with fried egg and sriracha from the new­est publi­ca­tion, Cheap Thrills. En­joy!


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