Cookery books for Christmas
Many foodies are ending this year in a state of deep anticlimax. The world recession was meant to mark the end of money and meretricious vanities, dethroned at last by the earthy virtues of food production and honest labour.
In the peak-oil, globally warmed apocalypse so eagerly anticipated, communities would revive hand-knitting and jam-making and men would dream of standing guard over their allotments.
Is this new engagement with essentials embraced by the world of food publishing? Not really. Phaidon offers us Coco: 10 World-Leading Masters Choose 100 Contemporary Chefs, a doorstop of a book in which 10 uber-chefs each choose 10 future stars from all corners of the Earth. Their recipes may be of interest, but only of value to members of the club or trendspotters.
Heston Blumenthal returns with a slimmed-down The Fat Duck Cookbook (Bloomsbury), still a giant by any other measure, portraying the chef as superman, with never a nod to his rather less than supermannish encounter with food poisoning earlier this year. His recipes will not be cooked at home, but study is rewarded by many helpful tips (for example, how best to clarify stock, or the virtues of slow cooking). His memoir is inspiriting, but the accompanying art is seriously dire.
For many, the real essential at this time of year is how best to cook the turkey. Roll up Delia Smith Delia’s Happy Christmas (Ebury Press) — possible subtitle ‘nine more ways with cranberries”. Its popularity might imply that Christmas dinner is the only meal its readers ever expect to worry about.
She has already made this one earlier, in 1990, and has recycled the instructions, timetables and shopping lists, as well as a few of the recipes, now wrapped in a sparkling new parcel of extra meals to fill out the holiday period. But the other recipes, the supporting cast, are comforting and enjoyable.
Many find the warm, affecting prose of Nigel Slater an inspiration, though cynics think it flirts with pretension (‘I was taught to make pastry by the open window, so I could smell the green prickle of spring as I rubbed the butter into the flour ...”).
In Tender, Volume I, A Cook and His Vegetable Patch (Fourth Estate), he manages astonishing prolixity in pursuit of very few greens. He would like us to think he grew them all, but admits in his foreword that they mostly came from Fern Verrow Biodynamic Farm in Herefordshire, southwest England. Is this a cook’s equivalent of greenwash?
Carnivores will be content to follow Jamie Oliver to Jamie’s America (Michael Joseph), thus sampling alligator, surf ‘n turf, pork and beans and much more. The food is heroically messy, the recipes a jumble, much like Jamie’s own view of the country, a melting pot of peoples and traditions (mostly with a chilli thrown in). The urgent, ingenuous cameraderie sits uneasily with the canny management of a career and an enterprise that earn millions every year.
Ginette Mathiot’s I Know How to Cook (Phaidon), first published in 1932 and brought up to date by Clotilde Dusoulier, provides a further instalment in Phaidon’s programme to bring us classics from the nations of Europe. This one was written by a home economist and went on to sell millions. It is not ground-breaking, neither is it terribly instructive, but it is a perfect repository of simple, conservative French home cooking. One to shelve. —