Skip to content

Excess baggage – new cookbooks and old

September 4, 2013

Off the shelf- cook bool reviewAre you the type of person who can never resist another cookbook? You are in good company. What is it about turning the pages of an unfamiliar book full of culinary inspiration? It’s often the jumping off point for me, rather than slavishly following a recipe it’s just the spark I need to get into the kitchen with a plan in my head. My cookbooks tend to be in three categories too: books I actually cook from (a core of about 15), books I refer to occasionally (specialist cuisines or techniques), books for reading and browsing only (fantasy feeds).

I brought a whole load back from the UK this summer. While I have a huge wish list on Amazon, I’m much more disciplined about buying brand new cookbooks these days so the ones I’ve chosen really have to earn their place on the shelves. Second-hand books are another story. Charity shops – especially Oxfam book shops – and book sales (I love the little stable with an honesty box at Saltram House, Devon) provide rich pickings. As promised earlier, here’s more about my new haul.

Perfect. 68 Essential Recipes for Every Cook’s Repertoire by Felicity Cloake

I was a keen follower of Felicity Cloake’s writing in the Guardian, but became an avid fan when I read her article about custard. It expressed exactly how I feel about the yellow stuff. I met her at Food Blogger Connect in 2012 and she was modest and very approachable. Her laid back persona cloaks a perfectionist in the kitchen. She is a meticulous recipe tester. The inspiration for her ‘How to make the perfect‘ column and this book was as follows. Gazing at the shelves of cookery books she owns, she wondered how to decide which recipe to turn to for the most delicious, authentic, perfect result – and she set out to find out.  From how to boil an egg through to the perfect Ragù Bolognese, she has cooked, tasted and compared advice from ‘an embarrassment of choice’ including Jane Grigson, Nigel Slater, Elizabeth David, Julia Child, Angela Hartnett, Dan Lepard, Delia, Jamie, Hugh and Nigella. The result is a small, modest hardback book peppered with simple, charming illustrations, which wouldn’t have looked out of place in my Mum’s kitchen. It distills the best of each into the ultimate perfect recipe.  I’m going to buy a copy for my teens for when they leave home.

Smitten Kitchen. Recipes from a New York Kitchen by Deb Perelman

And talking of perfectionism, Deb Perelman’s friendly, unassuming tone of voice on her blog Smitten Kitchen makes you feel like you are part of one continuous cosy chat in her tiny New York Kitchen. But don’t be fooled, a dedication to perfecting recipes and communicating them to pinpoint accuracy is an obsession – hundreds of thousands of readers don’t just happen by accident.

I read a fair few food blogs over the course of the week but only cook from a handful. Smitten Kitchen is one of them, despite pesky US volume measurements. The book, ordered in the UK, has been anglicised so it’s metric and things like biscuits become scones. Deb’s conversational style works as well on the page as it does online and the collection of recipes is just the kind of food I like to eat. My teens have been bookmarking things ever since it arrived, even salads. I expected great desserts and cakes, lemon bars, strawberry cheesecake fools and marshmallow layer cake for instance, but a real bonus is an excellent vegetarian section with leek fritters with garlic and lemon, and slow-cooked black bean ragout high on my ‘to cook’ list.

Food DIY – How to make your own everything: sausages to smoked salmon, sourdough to sloe gin, bacon to buns by Tim Hayward

This could have had the by-line – ‘follow up to the Dangerous book for boys’. It’s unashamedly macho (although he often gets his ten-year old daughter Liberty involved). Tim Hayward likes to get his hands dirty and smokes, butchers, makes cheese, kneads bread and pickles things. However, this book is not about how to survive in the outback, it’s about self-reliance. It’s the anti-thesis of the ready meal culture that half the population in the UK now calls cooking.

Tim’s an ex-ad man and entrepreneur who set up Fire and Knives magazine, appears often on BBC Radio 4 (Kitchen Cabinet and the Food Programme), took over and relaunched Fitzbillies in Cambridge. He’s quick-witted and energetic on air and in person (he was a speaker at FBC in 2011), is rather curmudgeonly on Twitter; this beautifully designed and illustrated tome is clearly a labour of love (although the rumoured 250k advance must have helped).  Having lived as an expat for many years you get used to trying to make things you can’t obtain easily from scratch (ahem, including alcohol in the magic Kingdom). It’ll be a challenge to use this book to its full capacity here in Dubai but I’ll be trying out smoked fish, kimchi, crumpets and his DIY takeaway fried chicken for sure. Air dried salami or hog roast, hmmmm…. not in the UAE.  And if anyone is coming to visit me, please bring Prague powder. Thanks to Maldon Salt – I was delighted to win this copy (with a tweet) as I was about to buy it. Very glad that KP didn’t see this enormous volume prior to packing as it probably cost me the cover price in extra baggage.

I Love Toscana. Colours, taste and flavours by Giulia Scarpaleggia

Giulia smiles, her eyes sparkle, she has dimples in her cheeks and the warmest manner you have ever encountered. She’s ingenuous, friendly and charming; no one meeting her could fail to be captivated. It’s the same with her new book, a simple concept – the story of the Tuscany where she lives and grew up through food. Many people have attempted this as outsiders, but there is a guilelessness about Jul’s first book that is avoids any pretension and takes you closer to this beautiful region.

I’d be content just to leaf through the pages of rustic photographs (several by Ellen Silverman but in the main taken by Juls herself). The stories about producers , the changing seasons, the landscape, the family rituals are entertaining enough by themselves and the layout and typography superb. The recipes are mostly simple, celebrating the best ingredients to hand often during straitened times, like wild herb omelette, crostoni with lard, tomato bread soup and green panzanella salad. The meat and fish dishes include sumptuous feasts such as stewed wild boar and roasted venison as well as more modest ones like black peppercorn beef stew and meatloaf. Whether you cook from it or use it as the inspiration for a trip to Tuscany, this is a lovely book to own (Juls brought me a copy from Italy to FBC 2013). She explains more on a video over on her blog Jul’s Kitchen (scroll to the bottom of the post) where she celebrates with rhubarb and berry custard slices. I approve heartily.

The Roman Cookery of Apicius. Translated and adapted for the modern kitchen by John Edwards.

You’d think that dishes from the time of Caesar might make you rush for the vomitorium. This is not the case at all, in fact the bulk of the recipes are quite familiar, green beans in mustard sauce, parsnips cooked in sweet wine sauce. It’s a wonderful introduction to the best of Roman and Greek cooking of the age and I suspect will spend equal time on my bedside table as a good historical read as in my kitchen as a source of inspiration.

The Country House Cookery Book by Christian Hesketh, Elisabeth Luard and Lara Blond

In buying this, I have no intention of pretending to be ‘to the manor born’. It was the mention of renowned food writer Elisabeth Luard that made me put my donation in the honesty box for this book. It’s like Country Life meets Upstairs and Downstairs – Mr’s Lott’s Pheasant Casserole anyone? An intriguing look at a life well on it’s way out in 1985 when this book was published and pretty much forgotten now (many country estates are now in the hands of Russian oligarchs aren’t they?). It appeals to me by capturing a very specific kind of English cooking, as this menu from Holker Hall in Lancashire illustrates well:

Tomato and bacon bisque, Roast leg of lamb, Damson cheese

Farmhouse Fare. Recipes from country housewives collected by Farmers Weekly

Published in 1973, this is a collection of recipes from real farmers’ wives. Amid practically extinct dishes such as savoury sheep’s heads and braised sheep’s tongues, the unappealing (meat rock cakes, mock goose – made of bull’s heart), there are many worth exploring especially in the cakes and preserving chapters. I’m eager to test many of them out and share them with you (but probably not the chapter entitled pig curing and by-products). That’s after the book has been aired for a while; patently the previous owner was a chain smoker. Where’s a clothes peg?

Cornucopia. The lore of fruits and vegetables by Annie Lise Roberts

What garlic is to salad, insanity is to art – Augustus Saint-Gaudens

How could I resist a book with beautiful illustrations peppered with quotes like that? Here’s another one:

Garlic is the catsup of intellectuals.

As a keen garlic eater, I can only agree.

Roast chicken and other stories by Simon Hopkinson

I seem to have lost my copy of this so was more than happy to find it second-hand for £1. The chapters are by ingredient, from anchovy to veal, with a very random collection in between. Eggs, garlic, brains, grouse, hake, parmesan and saffron to name a few. It’s regularly cited by chefs, cooks and food writers as a favourite tome and indeed listed as a source by Felicity Cloake (see above). Oh yes. There is a chapter on custard.

Sherbet & Spice. The complete story of Turkish sweets and desserts by Mary Isin

This didn’t come home in my suitcase but was sent to me as a review copy several months ago. I’ve been dipping into it constantly but still haven’t finished it so felt unable to give a comprehensive review. It’s a masterpiece of historical documentation and in-depth study of sweet things from the Ottomans, from how sugar was imported to the role of sweetmeats in charity to the poor. Reading the descriptions could give you a sugar rush  without a morsel passing your lips. It’s the kind of book I’d like to take to the beach (yes really) if I still took those kind of holidays. It would reward constant concentration to draw you into the many layered stories and references, the way that these sweetmeats are interwoven into history, culture and religion. My daily five minutes before nodding off have not done it justice.  I’m so glad that publishers are still investing in a book of this nature as without the kind of detailed research (over 40 years) and documentation that Mary Isin has dedicated, I suspect that much of the information would be lost forever. It is indeed a Turkish delight.

You are as refined as candy on a sweet tongue

In your sweet words are güllaç, made of honey and sugar – Däi c. 1421

Do you still buy physical cookbooks or do you download them on Kindle or ipad? Any new ones (or new old ones) to recommend?

imagesP.S. As part of a research thesis at Zayed University about “Social Bloggers vs. Social Journalists in the UAE: Perceptions of Credibility and Trust” I would be grateful if you would help out by taking this quick survey . It shouldn’t take longer than 3 minutes to complete

wine-stain1-2QUICK REMINDER: Possession. What does this mean to you relating to wine? It’s the theme for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge – Deadline for submission:  Monday, September 23rd 2013. Just the thing to get your creative wine writing juices flowing – read more about it here. Use the #MWWC3 hashtag on Twitter and Facebook.

VOTEVOTE FOR YAEL: There are few visionaries in food here in the UAE and Yael Mejia has been a driving force in making fresh, local, organic food available for all at an affordable cost. Setting up the only restaurant chain, Baker & Spice, that truly sticks to its sustainable fish promises, she has an enviable palate and constantly strives to deliver good honest food. She’s earned my vote in the Emirates Woman of the Year awards; please give her yours. Vote here.

  1. September 4, 2013 7:14 pm

    Lovely reviews! I love Giulia’s cookbook. As a child, at home, I used to flip a lot through the pages of The Country House Cookery Book and Farmhouse Fare…



    • September 4, 2013 7:34 pm

      How amazing that you know of those cook books Rosa – I used to browse my Mum’s Good Housekeeping book.

  2. September 4, 2013 8:07 pm

    Cool collection Sally 🙂 I can see you and I share very similar taste, and yes I am one of those people who can’t resist buying cookbooks although I must admit not all recipe books are appealing to me, but once I love one (I do many) it has to join the family 🙂
    Another priceless must read Turkish cookery back in the day book (since you are into historical food reads) is “500 Years of Ottoman Cooking by Mariana Yerasimos”. Very insightful and enjoyable.

    Thoroughly enjoyed this post and welcome back 🙂

    • September 4, 2013 9:23 pm

      Googling that book right now – it does sound interesting. Thanks Dima

  3. September 4, 2013 8:10 pm

    Thank you for these wonderful suggestions. In fact I just cracked open a new book today that I purchased this summer as per your recommendation- The Art of the Tart and made a wonderful spinach tart. Looks like I’ll have to add some of these to my Amazon wish list as well.

    • September 4, 2013 9:23 pm

      Oh Faiza – hope you enjoy The Art of the Tart as much as I have over the years.

  4. September 4, 2013 11:51 pm

    Great selection of books. I am on a moratorium of buying cook books at the moment as my shelves are full and it is a distraction from my course reading. I am so hooked on scouring second hand book shops though and it’s wonderful to step back in time reading some of the older books.

  5. September 5, 2013 1:06 am

    Wonderful additions to your collection!

    Two books on my list are Burma, by Naomi Duguid (a different insight into the flavours of south east Asia), and Jerusalem by Ottolenghi, but I already have a few books on the food from other parts of the middle east…..

  6. September 5, 2013 1:08 am

    I hoard books, have been moving them for years and will do so forever. Don’t touch one of my cookbooks or magazines! The only one I have from this list is smitten kitchen’s and I agree with your review. I don’t understand the dark, overly color saturated pictures but the recipes are excellent!

  7. andreamynard permalink
    September 5, 2013 1:11 am

    Really enjoyed reading this Sally. Unfortunately you’ve encouraged me to add several more books to my wishlist though, even though I have far too many – although I don’t think ‘too many’ is a phrase that should be applied to cookbooks.

  8. September 5, 2013 7:51 am

    Wow, what a great collection Sally. I’m looking forward to the experiments from the DIY book the most 🙂

  9. September 5, 2013 8:30 am

    No wonder that you had to pay for two extra bags, Sally! Back in the days of two bags to and from the States – of 70lbs each! – I could indulge more often. This one or two bags, depending on airline, of only 50lbs each is cramping my style. I really have a hard time resisting cookbooks at charity shops too. Often they get bought and left behind at the end of the summer. But at least they are mine!

    I have just added a few more to my wish list – thanks to this post. We should do a cookbook exchange amongst the Fooderati. Maybe trade for a month or so at a time. I have my eye on a couple of yours. 🙂

  10. September 5, 2013 1:30 pm

    No question in my mind that the book I would choose is Felicity Cloake’s “Perfect”. Great idea beautifully executed. My other choice, which I already have, is Simon Hopkinson’s “Roast Chicken…” I hold him in really high regard. He and Alistair Little shared a house for a while and that would have been an ideal place, in my view, to which to be invited to eat:)

  11. September 5, 2013 3:15 pm

    I wanted to thank youu for this wonderful read!! I certrainly loved every little bit
    of it. I’ve got you bookmarked to look at new stuff you post…

  12. glamorous glutton permalink
    September 5, 2013 10:00 pm

    So many, but if I had to choose it would be Food DIY, I’m slightly cheating as I already have Smitten Kitchen and the Simon Hopkinson. A grand hoard and worth the extra luggage cost. GG

  13. September 6, 2013 10:59 am

    Such a lovely collection. I am envious. I particularly want the smitten kitchen cookbook for sure.

  14. September 6, 2013 12:46 pm

    I love your categorisation of cookbooks: aspirational, research…and then those you actually cook from. I suffer from a similar cookbook affliction. Quickly running out of room, but just can’t bring myself to cull. They’re such enormously sentimental things!

    I too have just been given a copy of Tim Haywards Food DIY and also Darina Allen’s Forgotten Cooking Skills (it was my birthday this week!) so I’m psyching myself up for a bout of pickling, smoking, curing….perfect timing, as today is the first day of autumn here in London. X

  15. September 6, 2013 4:33 pm

    With over 40 cookbooks, I told myself not to get anymore and have just about managed that. I haven’t been able to get rid of any, although I did a sort a few out that may leave. A new one popped in recently, it was a gift. 🙂

  16. September 7, 2013 12:44 am

    Some very fun cookbooks, thanks for sharing! I have been spending a lot of time recently with “A Passion for Piedmont” by Matt Kramer (of Wine Spectator). It’s out of print, but pretty easy to find used.

  17. September 7, 2013 4:44 am

    Why, yes I am! These all look great. I’m getting ready to go to the U.K. and I know I’d better pack light so I have lots of room (and baggage weight left) to get all the cookbooks home.

  18. September 7, 2013 6:17 pm

    Wow Sally you weren’t kidding when you spoke of a lot of cookery books to take home! And apart from the ‘new’ ones you also found a few old gems as well! I must dive into second hand book stores more when I’m in the UK! That Farmhouse fare book looks amazing! Food DIY is on my list as well, I met him as well at FBC and thought he was a lovely bloke. I will always keep on buying actual printed books, I enjoy the feeling of holding a book and the smell of an old book. I like to look at my collection and may be this is materialistic of me, I think it’s more going on a journey through a book.
    Will take the survey now.
    Great post x

    • September 7, 2013 8:16 pm

      KP kept dropping hints about getting books on Kindle. I just can’t when it comes to cookery books – things like Food DIY, I love Toscana and Perfect are beautiful objects of design as well as an informative resource. You’d love Farmhouse Fare – the more I delve the more I keep finding fascinating things.

  19. September 8, 2013 4:18 am

    I was lucky enough to meet Deb Perlman when our local cookbook shop (yes we have a shop completely dedicated to cookbooks!) came for a cooking demo and book signing. She is exactly as y would expect in person 🙂

    • September 9, 2013 8:13 am

      There used to be a treasure of a cook book shop in Cheltenham with mainly old and some new books. Sadly gone. I do miss it. How lucky to meet Deb – she can’t be anything but a nice person surely.

  20. September 9, 2013 1:51 am

    Hi! I nominated you for the Shine On Award. If you’d like to accept this award, please check out the nomination post:

    If your blog is an award-free blog, please just know that your blog means something to another blogger out there.

    Keep writing,
    tamera mb

    • September 9, 2013 8:01 am

      Thank you SO much. Really enjoyed visiting your lovely blog and touched by your kind words. At the moment I have over 100 draft posts and at least 20 posts I want to publish this month. My head bursts with words and ideas but sadly not enough hours in the day. I therefore tend not to join in with awards as they take me away from the other things I want to write about. However, 7 things about me are:
      1. Putting on my walking boots ready for a hike is one of the best things in life (which I only get to do for 2 months a year)
      2. I want to learn how to meditate – but listening to jazz takes me to a very different state of mind, so perhaps I know this already
      3. My sister is one of the nicest people in the world. Fact.
      4. I went on a honeymoon immediately before I got married and it was a windsurfing course.
      5. I love sleeping and struggle without enough. Cool cotton sheets and a pillow case with the right thread count are essential (poly-cotton should be banned).
      6. I detest the word puckered when it’s said out loud. *Shiver.*
      7. Tea runs through my veins, it’s the fuel to my day, it’s the heart of my family…and I’m off to make myself another cup 🙂

      • September 10, 2013 2:28 am

        Thanks for your participation! It’s great to learn more about blog writers! I agree – I think jazz is your meditation 🙂

      • September 10, 2013 7:02 am


  21. September 9, 2013 1:37 pm

    Lovely post and reviews Sally and I adore your 7 things list! Cookbooks are the best companions for all the reasons you have listed and I can never get enough. I love piling them on my bed on a wintery afternoon and getting under the covers to browse with a cup of tea or coffee…oh a maybe a biscuit or two to keep the hunger in check. xox

    • September 10, 2013 7:00 am

      I know our Dubai winters are not the same as your German ones – but a pile of cook books, a cup of tea and snuggling under the duvet (actually I have a favourite sofa in my bedroom with a couple of blankets) sounds like bliss to me.

  22. September 14, 2013 12:46 pm

    what a fantastic collection of books!

  23. September 17, 2013 12:28 am

    I used to struggle with cookbooks but have dealt with that addiction. Success.

    Now I’m addicted to magazines. Sigh.

    They always say substitute a habit you’d like to change with another one, aye!

    I love your collection of books, and your review – very important so thanks for sharing. At the moment, I am DESPERATE to get Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem but I’m holding out a bit longer

  24. September 17, 2013 10:48 pm

    So glad that you wrote about the Roman Cookery of Apicius and the Sherbet & Spice – downloaded the latter on Kindle (they never got around to sending me my review version) and I need to figure out how to get my hands on the Roman Cookery book! That, and the Turkish one Dima mentioned…so many books to read, the list never ends 🙂

  25. September 22, 2013 1:19 am

    All of these cookbooks look really good! I have 2 the same as you. Thank you for introducing the other ones that are also very interesting! 😀

    • September 22, 2013 8:31 am

      Which two?

      • September 22, 2013 11:26 am

        I have the Smitten Kitchen cookbookn& I love it too & the Simon Hopkinson cookbook too! I love his writing & his creative tasty recipes too! MMMMM!


  1. Inspiration for the new year in my kitchen | My Custard Pie
  2. How to shoot your food | My Custard Pie

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: