Every year I think “that’s it, I’ve got enough cookbooks”. But rather like a black cardigan, or pair of jeans, one can never quite get past the nagging feeling that the next one might just be the perfect one. And then the shelf collapses.
Did I need another book by my all-time favourite recipe creator? I thought perhaps not, but then I leafed through Simon Hopkinson Cooks (Ebury, £25). Hoppy presents whole menus, painstakingly researched and clearly instructed, that will make even the most nervous cook entertain with elan.
I’ve already raved on these pages about Food DIY, by Tim Hayward (Fig Tree, £25), but it’s worth a quick reminder – it’s the funniest, most informative beyond-the-kitchen food book I know. And speaking of instruction-style titles, Master It, by Rory O’Connell (4th Estate, £25) takes the time to explain clearly – and show in photographs – how to do pretty much everything the modern cook might want. O’Connell, brother of the more famous Darina Allen, teaches at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, and his reassuring voice leaps from the page.
Families pop up in many of the year’s most charming food books: Smashing Plates (Kyle, £19.99) is Maria Elia’s authentic response to spending a summer with her dad in Cyprus with dishes drenched in sunlight and Greece’s strong flavours. Meanwhile Florence Knight, the talented young head chef at Polpetto, speaks movingly of the important role her late father played in her career. One: A Cook and Her Cupboard (Salt Yard Books, £26) is a paean to simplicity. As she says “three ingredients at the most, or four at a push; like a film, a lead and two supporting roles”. The chapters are based on key ingredients: eggs, flour, chocolate, nuts, etc. (It should be noted, the recipe for chocolate pots includes ketchup …) Allegra McEvedy’s Big Table, Busy Kitchen (Quercus, £25) looks back to her mother, whose treasured recipe scrapbook was heartbreakingly lost after her death. McEvedy, now a mother herself, offers a bounteous journey through recipes – starting with easy ones for little cooks – and tips for life in her robust, warm voice.
I love the look of The Ethicurean Cookbook (Ebury, £25) and want to explore it properly next year. From deep in the Mendip Hills, there are recipes and lots of background information on produce and how to prepare it that promotes (its creators say) Ethicurianism as a new British cooking manifesto. And if that sounds right on, it is, but it is also beautiful, delicate food arranged by season, of course.
The marvellous Tom Kerridge’s television-tie-in Proper Pub Food (Absolute Press, £20) will find its way to many kitchens, but the one to watch is the lesser known (outside the industry) Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird. I’ve never been to the famous Portland, Oregon restaurant of the same name, but the book (Ten Speed Press, £30) is witty, pretty and offers a stonking array of meaty delights. It’s got me searching for flights to the chilly NW of the US.
Finally, a little and large. Historic Heston by chef Blumenthal, published by Bloomsbury, comes in its own display case, and is as technically challenging and visually astonishing as you would expect (… for £125). I know I will never make the meat fruit, but I’m glad I can read about it, and many other ancient British dishes, in this book. Then there’s A Fork in the Road, a lovely little Lonely Planet paperback (£8.99) with 34 joyous essays from notable foodies. A delicious present to settle down with on the sofa after the feast.
And now I need another bookshelf.
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