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
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