We keep being told that we watch more food programmes on television than ever before, while cooking less. Is the same true of food books? Probably. But one book that won't be bought by anybody who's not willing to roll up their sleeves, sharpen a blade, and don an apron is Food DIY, by Tim Hayward.
This beautifully illustrated and photographed book has been a labour of love for Hayward, who also edits the fantastic Fire & Knives quarterly food journal and is owner of the Fitzbillies restaurant in Cambridge. The diligent research into such subjects as "building a drying cage" and "the offset smoker" (which sounds like a nicotine-addicted film extra rather than the route to deliciously fragrant fish and meat) is clear.
So, yes, by now you'll have gathered that the DIY doesn't stop at exchanging shop-bought biscuits for homemade ones. This is, as the book's subtitle explains, "how to make your own everything: sausages to smoked salmon, sourdough to sloe gin, bacon to buns".
None of this is as daunting as it sounds, thanks to clear, concise instructions. Each chapter takes on a technique and explains it, puts it in context, looks at methods, shows you how to do it and ends with some rather wonderful recipes.
There is quite an emphasis on the meaty – this is a man who has a tattoo reading "Beef and Liberty" on his forearm. Many of the photographs show the author wielding a sharp instrument or a carcass, or both. There's a blowtorch too, for making your own version of that takeaway classic, the doner kebab. But don't be mistaken into thinking that this is the "dude food" bible and that there's nothing here for the more, well, refined DIY diner.
Liberty is the name of Hayward's young daughter, and the most affecting picture in the book is of the pair of them churning butter in kilner jars. There are dainty fruit pies and home-roasted coffee ice creams, a delicious-looking omelette Arnold Bennett, and crumpets that you want to grab straight out of the page. (Just don't mention the badger ham to the faint hearted, okay?)
You'll have realised that I like this book. I find the disconnect between the British and the food they eat profoundly depressing, and if Food DIY persuades even a few of us to shun that supermarket bacon that leeches white scum as it cooks and to have a go at their own, how fantastic. If you fantasise over the perfect pork pie with a proper jelly layer and cut into each deli-bought version only to be disappointed, here is the answer (and a very groovy funnel technique).
There is, of course, the well-rehearsed argument about how time-poor we all are, and how irritating it is to fancy a dish only to read a recipe that suggests you should have started preparing two days before. It's undeniable, the techniques in this book require time. But there's nothing more heart-gladdening, I think, than seeing the fruits of your labour in stacked-up jars or vacuum-packed in the fridge and knowing how much less you spent than a trawl around Waitrose.
One final recommendation: in this book, the closest you'll get to the current vogue for slim/feast food advice is a section on "weight loss"… that turns out to be about how much lighter meat gets as you preserve it.
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