How To Eat a Peach is proof that there is poetry in the art of menu planning. By Priyanka Elhence
How to Eat a Peach
At a glance
“Menus aren’t just groups of dishes that have to work on a practical level or meals that cooks can manage, they also have to work as a succession of flavours. Perhaps what is most special about them is the way they can create very different moods – menus can take you places, from an afternoon at the seaside in Brittany to a sultry evening eating mezze in Istanbul. They are a way of visiting places you’ve never seen, revisiting places you love and celebrating particular seasons,” says British food writer, Diana Henry, in her opening monologue of How To Eat a Peach.
Indeed, How To Eat a Peach is neither just a collection of recipes categorised into menus nor about the fuzzy fruit. The unusual title of the cookbook references a dessert concoction of White Peaches in chilled Moscato that Henry discovered at an al fresco restaurant during her first trip to Italy. The simplicity of peach slices flavoured with wine reflects the other recipes which emphasise on the unadorned beauty of seasonal ingredients and honest cooking, a similar approach to cooking as Henry’s last cookbook, aptly titled Simple.
The menus, which are divided into two main seasons – Spring and Summer or Autumn and Winter – work well as they offer a glimpse into Henry’s experiences in different countries. It’s a joy to turn the pages and discover the stories behind quirky recipe names like Before The Passeggiata, If You’re Going to San Francisco, My Spanish Cupboard, Missing New York and Take Me Back to Istanbul.
The road test
Henry’s knockout Seville Orange Tart comes from her In My Own Back Yard menu. Granted, the tart isn’t quick or easy to make, but the effort taken to execute each component is justified. The steps to perfect the pastry shell and orange filling are straightforward, but you may trip up trying to roast the orange slices, as it’s easy to burn or dry out the slices, rather than keeping them sticky and tender.
For a duck recipe that isn’t a confit or require carving, the Slow-roast Duck Legs with Sweetsour Plums is one worth attempting. Just make the accompanying spiced plums ahead of time, so you only need to roast the duck legs on the day itself. Add a side of potatoes (sautéed in duck fat, of course) and it’s ready to be served. Bonus: the plums keep well in the fridge (up to six months), and are a great accompaniment to cold meats, terrines and pâtés and pork chops.
Complementing Singapore’s perennial summer days is the section entitled Too Hot to Cook. The Roast Tomatoes, Fennel & Chickpeas with Preserved Lemon & Honey doubles up as a salad and a main course without the need for any heavy frying. Reading the recipe initially, it did seem a tad cumbersome to roast the fennel and tomatoes separately, but each ingredient manages to stay intact and keep its shape.
How To Eat a Peach is thoroughly engaging and liberating in the message that Henry brings across – that she doesn’t invite people around for a meal and then wonder what she’ll cook. Instead, she puts a menu together and then considers the guests who would appreciate it the most. If you are looking for a cookbook that will transport you to different destinations in one evening, this is it.