The Joy of Eating: The Virago Book of Food, Edited by Jill Foulston

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The Independent Culture

Sampling this banquet of all-female food writing – the sorority is justified by the editor on rather curious grounds, "in the most basic sense, women are food for their offspring" – the reader may be surprised to discover a meagre serving from the stars of literary gastronomy. Jane Grigson, Alice B. Toklas, Alice Waters and Elizabeth David are represented by a single dollop, though the latter's contribution is one of her wisest paragraphs: "If I had my way, my Christmas Day eating and drinking would consist of... a smoked salmon sandwich and a glass of champagne on a tray in bed."

In compensation, Foulston includes such quirky nibbles as Reay Tannahill on ersatz foods (some duff Parmesan from 1969, "turned out, on analysis, to consist of grated umbrella handles") and Sarah Waters's heroine from Tipping the Velvet who, two decades after quitting oyster-shucking in Whitstable, maintained she could "still catch the scent of liquor and brine... in the creases of my palm."

In a similar vein, Julia Child insists that "the memory of a good French paté can haunt you for years." For a final morsel, Foulston turns to Brillat-Savarin.

No, it's not a solitary male inclusion but Pierette B-S, great-aunt of the culinary philosopher. Shortly before her 100th birthday, she announced: "Bring on the dessert... I think I am about to die."

If you ever feel yourself succumbing to a diet, here is the antidote.