We’ve gone through this year’s book reviews and are pleased to bring you our top dozen. Click on any pic to link to the publishers. If you make an order, please mention The Taster. Happy reading
Authors Wendy Trusler and Carol Devine relate the tale of Antarctica’s first cleanup, carried out by 54 volunteers from five countries. In three months, they cleared the detritus of 30 years’ worth of previous expeditions. But while most of the volunteers were clearing rubbish, someone had to do the cooking. As the authors say, ‘The first thing that comes to mind about Antarctica is not likely the food. But if you are going there, it is the second.’ Trusler spent ‘many long, white nights’ devising menus with limited ingredients in a camp kitchen — with some success, if the 42 recipes given are anything to go by. The international nature of the project is evident in dishes from Great Wall [of China] dumplings to fondue, goulash and roast leg of lamb. Along with many original illustrations and photos, the book reproduces Shackleton’s hilarious — but impressive — advertisement for volunteers: ‘Men wanted for hazardous journey . . .’ (you’ll have to buy it yourself to get the punchline.) A handsome and unusual book, of interest to foodies, geographers and historians. £25 from publishers Harper Design 2015
2. FOR THE HOME BAKER: Seasonal Gingerbread Recipes
3. FOR THE THOUGHTFUL CHEF
The Philosopher’s Cookbook by Martin Versfeld. “Versfeld’s recipes have more of the poet about them than the instructor, they celebrate the complex relationship between humanity and food. A suitable gift for those of a thoughtful and contemplative nature, The Philosopher’s Cookbook is about the twin arts of slow cooking and pondering. “The art of preparing and eating food is inextricably intertwined with the meaning of life. . . ” Reading this book is like having a big friendly hug from someone who then goes on to explain in close detail why life is, in fact, good; and then serves up an excellent stew as a closing argument.
4. A FUNNY BOOK FOR YOUNG(ISH) PARENTS
We’re going on a Bar Hunt, A Parody
Josie Lloyd & Emlyn Rees, illustrated by Gillian Johnson. Give a copy to any parents of young children you know. Inspired. Starts with two rhyming couplets:
We’re going on a bar hunt.
We’re going to find a cool one.
The babysitter’s booked.
We’re not old!
Any parent will get the gist . . . Originally published by Constable & Robinson 2013; now published by Little, Brown. Other similar titles include The Very Hungover Caterpillar and The Teenager Who Came To Tea
5. IMPRESSIVE COFFEE TABLE BOOK & MATCHING SPICES
Spices & Spandex — an epicurean adventure down the length of the world on a hungry stomach — The Nomadic Kitchen 2014
Spice Kitchen UK has teamed up with author Tom Perkins to present a collection of African spices, to match and complement Tom’s ravishing, tactile, beautifully distressed coffee-table volume. The book tells of a monumental bike tour undertaken by Tom and a buddy, Matt Chennells, through 26 countries over 501 days, from Kent to Cape Town. Cycling 20,000km required a lot of calories. As Tom puts it, the boys travelled ‘at street level, focusing on the local: the backstreets, the vendors and the artisans’ — an approach that led to this ‘magpie book of esteemed national dishes, local delicacies and side-street offerings.’ With over 350 pages of menus, recipes, essays, photos and collages, this is a fabulous foodie gift; putting it together with the spices is a master move. Click on either pic (below) to link to the Spice Kitchen page.
6. WITTY PERSONAL MEMOIR
CLICK: The Hungry Years (Confessions of a Food Addict) “One January morning in 2003, William Leith woke up to the fattest day of his life. That same day he left London for New York to interview controversial diet guru Dr Robert Atkins. What started out as a routine assignment set Leith on an intensely personal and illuminating journey into the mysteries of hunger and addiction. The Hungry Years charts new territory for anyone who has ever had a craving or counted a calorie. This story of food, fat, and addiction will change the way you look at food for ever” Very engaging, often extremely funny, one of those books you cannot put down as you long to find out how it all ends.
The Gastronomical Guide to Fabulous Food! By Claire Bosi & Petri Hosken. One of the best food books we’ve read in a while, very Taster in approach. Ostensibly for children, but adults may well pinch it from time to time. Crammed full of entertaining pics, recipes, info, trivia. Brilliant. Published by A Way With Media
8. ONE FOR THE SCIENTISTS
Catching Fire (How Cooking Made Us Human) A riveting read for anyone interested in human evolution and the importance of cooking in early human history. Rather than opposable thumbs, or complicated powers of vision, Richard Wrangham “argues that it was cooking that caused the extraordinary transformation of our ancestors from apelike beings to Homo erectus. At the heart of Catching Fire lies an explosive new idea: the habit of eating cooked rather than raw food permitted the digestive tract to shrink and the human brain to grow, helped structure human society, and created the male-female division of labour. . . Covering everything from food-labelling and overweight pets to raw-food faddists, Catching Fire offers a startlingly original argument.”
9. SET OF FOOD HISTORY BOOKS
Whether you buy one, two, or all 50+ titles in this series by Reaktion Books, each slim volume “explores the rich history of cuisine. . . reveals the global history and culture of a particular food or beverage.” The Taster has now read several and so far, every book has proved to be reliable, well written and enjoyable. With so many titles to choose from, you can build up a very personalised set for someone special. The Taster knows what he’d like — Cheese, Figs, Lemon, Pie, and Brandy, thanks very much His Aged Mother, in contrast, might like Tea, Cake, Bread, Game and Pancakes. See the whole range HERE, from A for Apple to W for Wine.
If you haven’t yet found your perfect gift book, it’s always worth rummaging through the archives at Grub Street Publishing House. This excellent independent publishing house specialises in just two niches: food & wine, and aviation. (We’ll leave the aviation for now.) Like The Taster, Grub Street’s mission is to publish excellent food writing, rather than the latest celeb chef tomes: pleasingly, this hasn’t stopped Nigella herself(!) describing them as ‘the cookery publisher with a culinary conscience.’ The Taster has been lucky enough to peruse a number of their titles and what we’ve noticed is how often they contribute to our understanding of food history, as well as lots of delicious recipes. Our current favourite is Cakes, Regional & Traditional (pictured above). Although The Taster himself has more of a savoury than a sweet tooth, if anything is going to make that old gentleman try a Singin’ Hinny, or a Norfolk Vinegar Cake, this book is it.
Click on our previous blogs on The Best of Jane Grigson
and A Century of British Cooking
Grub Street is also taking an especial interest in catering for the new interests in healthy cuisines, including wheat-, gluten- and dairy-free diets as typified by their new title by Antoinette Savill (see pic), The Vegan Bible by Marie Laforêt and Best Salads Ever by Sonja Bock and Tina Scheftelowitz.
11. FOOD MATCHING – A DIFFERENT WAY OF COOKING
The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit. An excellent (in fact a unique) alternative to a conventional cookbook. The Taster has encountered several food professionals who use this book on a regular basis, whether to find inspiration for a new flavour of ice cream or come up with a side vegetable to go with a particular type of meat. It’s just as useful for home cooks: “Ever wondered why one flavour works with another? Or lacked inspiration for what to do with a bundle of beetroot? The Flavour Thesaurus is the first book to examine what goes with what, pair by pair. . . There are 980 entries in all, with 200 recipes and suggestions embedded in the text.”
12. FOR ROMANTICS AND CHIC LIT LOVERS
The Food of Love by Anthony Capella. For lovers of Italian food, Italian lifestyle, Italian cookery or chick lit, or just plain lovers. A romantic tale with the added benefit of an appendix of recipes. If the gloom of winter should overcome you, pick this book up and immerse yourself in the sunshine and blue skies of Rome and the Italian countryside and beaches. “It’s a hymn to la dolce vita and the joy of food by someone who knows his stuff and his stuffing, a text that breathes authentic backstreet Rome from every page. I loved it” — The Times. Capella has since written a few more food-themed novels, including The Empress of Ice Cream and The Various Flavours of Coffee
And because The Taster always does a Baker’s Dozen . . .
13. THE ULTIMATE GIFT ENCYCLOPAEDIA
The Oxford Companion to Food
This new edition is a seriously substantial Christmas present for any foodie, gourmet or connoisseur who hasn’t already snapped up a copy. Funny and illuminating in equal measure, the original 1999 volume was an overnight success, winning prizes and accolades worldwide for its author, the late Alan Davidson. This updated 2014 volume has been expertly achieved by the impeccably credentialed Tom Jaine. Tom has produced numerous cookery books and often writes for The Times, The Guardian and The Sunday Telegraph; and he has edited The Good Food Guide and presented BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme.
The Taster frequently finds it invaluable. £40 from the publishers (click on the pic)