Books

This sum­mer’s har­vest of cook­ery books is sat­is­fy­ingly un­pre­dictable, but all the bet­ter for that, says Leslie Ged­des-brown

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

ILIKE Alex Mackay’s un­ex­pected take on recipes, prob­a­bly be­cause I’m an in­gre­di­ent-based cook. His method in The Magic Fridge (Blooms­bury, £26) is to take one ba­sic food—cheese sauce, ratatouille, baked beans or soy-and-honey glaze, for ex­am­ple— and sug­gest ways of us­ing it, ei­ther with brief sug­ges­tions or full-length recipes. Croque Madame for cheese, cas­soulet for baked beans and so on. I’ll cer­tainly put this on my shelf.

With her back­ground as chefowner at Wa­haca, a Mex­i­can chain in Lon­don, Thomasina Miers is hardly a meat-and-two-veg cook. Read­ers of her new

Home Cook (Guardian Faber, £25) need to be near a mul­ti­cul­tural street mar­ket to find in­gre­di­ents, as she’s in­spired by Viet­nam, the Mid­dle East, Japan and, of course, Mex­ico. Once sourced, how­ever, her mixed in­gre­di­ents are used fairly sim­ply and very spic­ily. To make the best of The Great

Dix­ter Cook­book (Phaidon, £24.95), you will need a veg­etable gar­den as the first 50 pages are a guide to grow­ing the in­gre­di­ents. Aaron Ber­telsen has been at the fa­mous Great Dix­ter gar­den for 10 years and, use­fully, he lists va­ri­eties and prob­lems (pi­geons love bor­lotti beans, for ex­am­ple). His recipes are sim­ple and make the best of ul­tra-fresh pro­duce.

I’m not sure what Jesse Dun­ford Wood set out to do with

Mod­ern Bri­tish Food (Ab­so­lute Press, £20). He says tak­ing Bri­tish clas­sics ‘and rein­vent­ing them’, which sounds a mite ar­ro­gant. How­ever, he brines his pork chops, adds cream to his scram­bled eggs and cit­rus fruits to hal­ibut (a de­li­cious idea) and cre­ates ‘black pud­ding’ made of choco­late. The re­sult is an in­spir­ing series of recipes that might en­cour­age you to ex­per­i­ment with your own rein­ven­tions. Tra­di­tional Cook­ing of Ire­land by Biddy White Len­non and Ge­orgina Camp­bell (Lorenz Books, £14.99) makes no claims about rein­vent­ing dishes. In­stead, we get a his­tory of the coun­try from its first set­tlers 9,000 years ago, who found plenty of shell­fish and game birds, hares and wild pigs. The book in­cludes an up-to-date guide to Ir­ish cheeses —a supris­ingly large num­ber from Ar­dra­han to Knock­alara— and to Ir­ish whiskey. Con­grat­u­la­tions on this over­all sur­vey. I can’t wait to try the lob­ster dish Dublin Lawyer, so called be­cause lawyers can af­ford the crus­tacean.

Sa­bor (Pen­guin, £25) is the name of the Span­ish chef Nieves Barragán Mo­ha­cho’s new restau­rant (she was the chef at Bar­ra­fina be­fore). This is a lush, but ac­ces­si­ble, se­lec­tion of her Span­ish dishes, from Cata­lan cod salad to Ar­roz con Leche. Ex­cel­lent, both for those who al­ready love Span­ish cook­ing (es­pe­cially Basque) and for those who want to try it out.

Carla Ca­palbo is bet­ter known for her Ital­ian food books, but in Tast­ing Ge­or­gia (Pal­las Athene, £29.99), she trav­els to Ge­or­gia. She de­scribes the coun­try’s (vi­o­lent) his­tory, wines and cui­sine. Herbs such as basil and dill abound, but there are also ec­cen­tric­i­ties, such as jon­joli, the fer­mented buds of the Ge­or­gian blad­der­nut tree and ground petals of French marigolds. The Ge­or­gians are great for­agers for wild mush­rooms,

net­tles, smi­lax and other greens and their recipes are be­guil­ing: sim­ple, with ex­otic notes.

It’s a bit of a re­lief to come back to French coun­try cook­ing with Mimi Tho­ris­son’s Meals and Mo­ments from a Vil­lage in the Vine­yards (Hardie Grant, £25). The au­thor and her hus­band started a restau­rant in a re­mote vil­lage and these are its recipes.

Like many of this crop of cook­books, the pho­tos (by her hus­band Od­dur) cen­tre on lo­cal life—even the Tho­ris­sons’ dogs fea­ture. I sigh with re­lief that the recipes are for quiche not quinoa and souf­fles not spelt. French cook­ing at its most charm­ingly typ­i­cal. The Ox­ford Com­pan­ion to

Cheese (OUP, £40) is edited by Cather­ine Don­nelly, a pro­fes­sor of Nu­tri­tion and Food Science at the Univer­sity of Ver­mont in the USA. It cov­ers un­likely sub­jects, such as the sex­ual im­agery of cheese, cave main­te­nance and ad­dic­tion to cheese, so it has a wide sweep, but what it doesn’t do in its 849 pages is give any recipes. Use­ful to cheese­mak­ers, but not to cooks.

In her posthu­mously pub­lished memoirs, Les­ley Blanch re­counts how, while she was liv­ing with her par­ents as a 16-year-old girl in Chiswick, a gypsy woman sell­ing clothes pegs came to the door and, look­ing at her, pre­dicted that, when she grew up, she would have ‘far to go and many to love’.

Those who have read Blanch’s books, with their vivid de­scrip­tions of far-flung places and deeply felt emo­tional in­volve­ments, will recog­nise how ac­cu­rate the gypsy’s fore­cast was. This new col­lec­tion of her early jour­nal­ism, bi­o­graph­i­cal es­says and trav­ellers’ tales adds a whole new di­men­sion to her ad­ven­tur­ous and ro­man­tic life.

The first 60 pages are a sen­si­tive ac­count of her life writ­ten by her god-daugh­ter, Ge­or­gia de Cham­beret, who has both edited the pas­sages writ­ten by Blanch and set them in the con­text of her trav­els and loves. As edi­tor, she doesn’t dis­guise the fact that the au­thor was an ‘ide­al­ist and fan­ta­sist’, who prac­tised what has be­come known as nar­ra­tive nonfiction; that is, telling a good story with­out over much at­ten­tion to the less colour­ful or in­con­ve­nient facts—‘the boundary be­tween dreams and wak­ing worlds is of­ten blurred’.

Blanch mar­ried a French diplo­mat and they were en poste to­gether in, among other places, Bul­garia and Los An­ge­les. While in the former, she was able to in­dulge her fas­ci­na­tion with all things Slav; in the lat­ter, she be­came a self-styled queen of Tin­sel­town, en­ter­tain­ing and be­ing en­ter­tained by the stars of hol­ly­wood. how­ever, even this fell short of her as­pi­ra­tions; she was a re­bel­lious diplo­matic wife, al­ways stray­ing off for her own ex­plo­rations and ad­ven­tures.

Among the places that at­tracted her and about which she writes are the Sa­hara, Iran, Turkey, Syria and Afghanistan. not for her the world of ‘young english-women spoil­ing their lives tap­ping away at type­writ­ers… and trudg­ing home over Water­loo Bridge’; hers were wider hori­zons.

how­ever, although she was al­ways seek­ing out re­mote places, Blanch also liked to be the cen­tre of at­ten­tion wher­ever she was. She cul­ti­vated the friend­ship of such di­verse char­ac­ters as Peter Usti­nov, the Oliviers, nancy Mit­ford and Ce­cil Beaton, but, like all good trav­ellers, she also cul­ti­vated the or­di­nary peo­ple she met. As a re­sult, she found in Ara­bia that there were ‘rather too many kind, but mis­lead­ing, strangers who al­ways used to tell me trains or buses left at what­ever time they imag­ined I should have liked them to leave, which alas, sel­dom cor­re­sponded with fact’.

Blanch may be best re­mem­bered for The Wilder Shores of Love, but as she ex­plores the souks and bazaars of Cen­tral Asia in this ec­cen­tric and fas­ci­nat­ing book, she also dis­cov­ers ‘the wilder shores of shop­ping’. She is as good com­pany on the page as she must have been in the al­ley­ways of Bukhara. John Ure

An ide­al­ist and a fan­ta­sist: Les­ley Blanch in the 1960s

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