First, smoke your rhododendron

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Every year about 5,000 new cookery books come out. Next year they will all be remaindered because nobody can make up their mind which one to buy. To avoid that terrible waste, we are introducing a new service that sifts through all the new cookery books and recommends the best to you. Here to kick off is the pick of all the cookery books published over the weekend.

'The Raver Cafe Cookbook' by Emma Thripp (Garlic Press, pounds 10.99) The Raver Cafe is a small eating place in the North of England which is cashing in on its similarity in name to the River Cafe in the hope that lots of people will buy this cookbook by mistake. It contains over 100 recipes involving black pudding.

'Cooking With Flowers' by Percival Forster (Wineskin Press, pounds 19.99) Every cookery book imagines it is making a breakthrough, but this one genuinely does seem to be treading fresh territory. We may have occasionally come across deep fried courgette blooms, and rose petals are not unknown in the kitchen, but a whole book devoted to the cooking of flowers is ambitious indeed. Of the recipes we tried, rosemary flower bread was good, apple blossom pudding was delicious and daffodil pie unspeakable. Smoked rhododendron blooms are not as bad as they sound, but nearly.

'Icelandic Cooking - the Cuisine Nobody Knows' by Per Ulfsson (Deep Freeze Press, pounds 19.99) Although publishers are always on the look-out for countries whose cooking has yet to become popular, they should be warned that Scandinavian cooking is very hard to sell to the British public. (A book called Finnish Eating is said to have sold not a single copy.) This book, with its hearty horse steaks and endless ice creams, may do well, but we have our doubts. There is much emphasis on cooking over peat, perhaps in an attempt to outdo the River Cafe's recent conversion to wood cooking.

'Post-River Cafe Cooking Theory' by Deirdre Stigwood (Lychee Press, pounds 19.99) Not strictly a cookbook - there are no actual recipes in it - this does provide a useful gloss on the way we cook now. Stigwood points out that the River Cafe has become famous despite most people not knowing where it is or having eaten there. She points out that people talk about River Cafe style as being more important than the place itself and argues, startlingly, that the River Cafe does not even need to exist - that one could have a new style based on a purely putative restaurant. There have been cookbooks based on fictional characters (a Maigret cookery book, for instance) so why not on fictional restaurants? She concludes: "If Delia Smith did not exist, it would not be necessary to invent her." We have not the faintest idea what she is on about, but the pictures are nice.

'Choosing Your Name' by Patty Boulez (Grissini Books, pounds 19.99) Miss Boulez's thesis is that many cooks owe their success to their name, and that you should invent one carefully if you are after fame. Floyd was a good name, because it lent itself to alliteration - Floyd on Fish, Floyd on Fire, etc. Marco-Pierre White was a silly name but it did combine three nationalities - Italian, French, English - in a way that suggested the eclecticism of the man's cooking. Ken Hom she approves of, because, as she says, "the British can take a Chinaman only when one of his names is Chinese and the other English". She is at a loss to explain how a man called Rick Stein became a popular cook, but otherwise is very good.

'The Rover Cafe Cookbook' by Eddie Shawarma (Placebo Press, pounds 19.99) An attempt to cash in on the success of the Raver Cafe Cookbook. To be avoided, on the whole.

'The Eric Cantona Cookery Book' by Eric Cantona with others (Bulimia Books, pounds 19.99) This is, apparently, Eric Cantona's first cookbook, though it is difficult to tell whether the pieces it contains are recipes or poems. Take this, for instance: "If there were no dogs in the world, would the sardine be man's best friend? Only the seagull can tell. Grill and serve."

'The Prison Cook Book' by Mrs Michael Howard (Wormwood Press, pounds 19.99) The wife of the former Home Secretary achieved passing notoriety for suggesting that prison food was too good for them. Now she puts action into words by producing a model prison cookbook, and most of the dishes described would, indeed, be more of a deterrent than her husband's policies. We especially liked the title of her chapter on Breton onions: "String 'Em Up, I Say!"