The year’s best food books, from honey cre­ated by lice to Vik­ing feasts

Cate Devine finds that the stand-out culi­nary of­fer­ings are push­ing ever closer into trav­el­ogue ter­ri­tory

The Herald Magazine - - Arts BOOKS -

en­gag­ing way – by writ­ing from the heart about the is­land (ac­tu­ally a scat­ter­ing of more than 100 is­lands and islets) Tom first vis­ited 40 years ago and in 1993 moved to per­ma­nently from the main­land to marry James’ mother Su­san.

James, a doc­tor in Glas­gow, is a for­mer Great Bri­tish Bake Off fi­nal­ist and au­thor of three pre­vi­ous cook­books, while Tom, the well-known jour­nal­ist and broad­caster, makes his cook­book de­but. The un­usual son-and­fa­ther co-au­thor combo makes for a be­guil­ing dou­ble act in which em­pir­i­cal facts about Shet­land’s his­tory and longestab­lished food cul­ture are served up with char­ac­ter­is­tic dry wit.

The recipes are rooted in an­cient croft­ing skills – preser­va­tion, fer­men­ta­tion, pick­ling, smok­ing – honed over cen­turies by the need to sur­vive in a place cut off from the main­land by “a long and par­tic­u­larly rough sea jour­ney” and prone to in­va­sion. These are echoed in mod­ern adap­ta­tions, mostly by James, that will surely talk to a whole new gen­er­a­tion. Bravo for that.

How to recre­ate a Vik­ing pit feast on the beach kicks off pro­ceed­ings, with an in­ter­pre­ta­tion for home cook­ing “dirty” (hot smoked) mack­erel over sea­weed. The his­tory of reestit mut­ton is twinned with a recipe for mak­ing it at home, and even if you never man­age it, the mere act of read­ing about it brings this revered old dish back to life. Among many other riv­et­ingly de­scrip­tive asides and in­struc­tions, plus recipes by lo­cal women friends and neigh­bours, I par­tic­u­larly en­joyed James’ metic­u­lously sci­en­tific dis­sec­tion of roast chicken. I’m not so sure about try­ing the piglet tes­ti­cles, though.

Old Europe gets a some­what more nostal­gic nod in Diana Henry’s gen­tly tac­tile How to Eat a Peach (Oc­to­pus, £25, com­plete with fuzzy peach-skin cover) in a se­ries of en­tire menus based on her trav­els, and which she be­gan to col­late as a 16-year-old back­packer.

The book’s ti­tle is taken from an Ital­ian-Proven­cal menu and is rem­i­nis­cent of the English writer Elizabeth David in its abil­ity to con­jure me­mories of pre-Brexit-angst sum­mers past.

White peaches in chilled sweet white wine is sipped along with melon and goat’s cheese curd with a laven­der dress­ing; there’s roast sea bass with fen­nel and anise aioli, to­mates proven­cales aux an­chois and broad bean cros­tini.

Mex­ico, New York, Turkey, Spain and Morocco also gen­er­ate some gor­geous ideas and if the recipes – di­vided here into sea­sons – don’t feel ter­ri­bly new

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