Independent choice: kitchen culture

Pick of the week Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria

We don't just eat; we use food to demonstrate our style, beliefs and identity. A new crop of books displays the range of current trends: Green Eating, Tuscan Peasant, Scholarly, Country House and Dinner-Party Chic.

I once tried shopping in a remote Lincolnshire village surrounded by vast acres of prime soil all bursting with veggies. The local shop had some spindly blotched carrots that could have seen service in The Hand of Dracula and some pensionable onions. The vitamin-filled fresh local produce was all destined for distant supermarkets. So I need no convincing that the most important food issue, the fundamental quality of what we eat, is raised by Kate de Selincourt's Local Harvest: Delicious Ways to save the Planet (Lawrence & Wishart, pounds 11.99).

Her book exposes horrors such as supermarket Chicken Kiev: "made largely from reconstituted, mashed chicken skin with fragments of muscle meat" and the dishonest labelling which permits Danish bacon to appear as "British", or the RSPCA's Freedom Foods guidelines, which allow sows to be kept in savagely cruel farrowing crates and battery hens to be debeaked. This book passionately argues that eating local organically farmed produce is tastier, kinder and healthier.

How could one not agree? But the quality of documentation is poor, sometimes irresponsibly so: the claimed statistical connection between the incidence of breast cancer and the use of the pesticide lindane will arouse much concern, yet no citations are given. And she does not really tackle the related problems of delivery and cost of organic produce. Those who need cheap fresh food most, poor inner-city families, cannot afford the price, the transport or the time needed to purchase it. It looks as if the main beneficiaries of organic farming are represented by the Volvos full of Pick-Your-Own hurtling round country lanes. Still, we must never underestimate the power of gesture, as the popularity of Swampy demonstrates. The most fashionable claim you can make in current foodie circles is to know a teenager up a tree.

The ever-popular Tuscan Peasant category is represented by Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria (Penguin, pounds 8.99), which combines the pleasurable genres of travel and food writing. James Lasdun and Pia Davis ventured off the beaten track to hoof it through Chiantishire. The book suggests more than 30 fairly undemanding walks, with eating places, around Florence, Lucca, Siena and other staging-posts on the art trail. I was glad to see a recommendation for Florence's Mercato Centrale - a wonderful culinary shopping scenario, as deserving of attention as the Duomo. The book is a treat for the armchair gourmet - how can one resist the cloisters of Monte Oliveto, which sport a medieval fresco by the little-known artist and badger-lover, Il Sodoma? The monks are renowned for their olive oil.

Here all roads lead to obscure rustic alberghi which would otherwise go undiscovered and the authors have a New York toughness in assessing food standards and prices. I started this book with extreme anti-pseud prejudice, but it ended up as my favourite. I was won over by mouthwatering details: little Pienza cheeses rolled in herbs and crushed peppers, pigeon- stock sauces flavoured with truffles - and by the refreshing emphasis on taking buses.

I turned in some dread to the scholarly offering. The Official Foodie Handbook once nailed the scholar-cook to the wall, as one whose days were spent transcribing phrases such as "splatte thatte pyke" from dusty manuscripts while existing on a diet of dyed kippers and biscuits. Happily, John Evelyn, Cook (Prospect Books, pounds 25.50) is the work of the late, lamented, and utterly credible, Christopher Driver.

It contains more than 300 recipes from Evelyn's 17th-century manuscript "receipt" book, lucidly edited, to which Driver has added a loving glossary which includes an intriguing contribution from Elizabeth David on cantimplora, an early device for cooling wine. But Evelyn was no Pepys; he was a dry stylist and this book is a case where the modern editor was a better writer than his source.

Historically inclined foodies will also enjoy Christina Hardyment's Behind the Scenes: Domestic Arrangements in Historic Houses (The National Trust, pounds 24.99). This is the forgotten aspect of Country House cuisine, its below- stairs preparation. The book is meticulously researched, focusing on the kitchen and commissariat staff. It is lavishly illustrated, though the photographs show the preternaturally clean and tidy domestic scenarios of National Trust kitchens. Couldn't they have dirtied them up a bit? But if you want to know exactly how a Victorian dairy operated, Hardyment will tell you - and she has probably crawled inside the churns. Mrs Bridges with balls.

Finally, the latest and most gruesome example of Dinner-Party Chic, Last Dinner on the Titanic, Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner by Rick Archbold and Dana McCauley (Weidenfeld, pounds 9.99). Not only the recipes that were served to the doomed passengers, but "suggestions on setting the mood, decorating the table and presenting each dish" to evoke the ambience. Highly topical: one for Tory tables.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate