Why is it that the more TV food shows we watch, the more likely we are to pop something in the microwave? Michael Pollan isn’t sure he has the answer, but he knows it has to stop. In Cooked (Allen Lane), Pollan continues his campaign to get us to eat properly and pleasurably by making meals from scratch. This doesn’t, mercifully, involve yet more recipes. Instead, what we get is a warm, thoughtful narrative in which Pollan encounters everything from a surfing baker who makes the perfect sourdough to a cheese-making nun. This is a love song to old, slow kitchen skills at their delicious best.
The Great British Bake Off Winter Kitchen (Ebury): despite this book being branded as a Great British Bake Off product, you’ll search in vain for a crumb of Mary and Paul, or even Mel and Sue. What you will find instead is food journalist Lizzie Kamenetzky’s excellent suggestions for heavy-duty grub to get you through the cold months. Take your pick from rich pork goulash with gnocchi, roast duck breast with butter polenta, and roast pumpkin with feta. Kamenetzky even promises to make your Sunday roasts “show-stopping”, which might just throw your timings out.
Dismissing dinner parties as “mere rituals”, Macaulay maintained that if you really want to see someone, you invite them to breakfast. Having got them there, though, it would be rude just to offer a serving of budget muesli. So Seb Emina and Malcolm Eggs, in The Breakfast Bible (Bloomsbury), have put together a recipe book full of lovely things with which to start the day, from cornbread to lean pork congee. There are also bits and pieces of food lore grabbed from history to keep you occupied while your blueberry muffins are baking.
Dinner with Mr Darcy (Cico Books): Jane Austen uses food in her books to place her characters. Mrs Bennet’s haunch of venison shows she has friends with a deer park and a cook who knows how to prepare it. Mrs Elton, meanwhile, expresses her contempt for her new country neighbours by deriding their cackhandedness with “rout cakes” or rock buns. In this charming bit of historical reconstruction, Pen Vogler takes authentic recipes from Austen’s time and updates them for today. You’ll find everything you need to recreate Netherfield Ball in your front room.
While the skies droned and hissed overhead during the second world war, Britons got busy in their gardens, allotments and reclaimed open spaces. “Digging for Victory”, though, was not just about making a small island self-sufficient in food. In the deeply researched A Green and Pleasant Land: How England’s Gardeners Fought the Second World War (Hutchinson), Ursula Buchan explains how the repetitive tasks of gardening acted as a balm and salve at times of greatest trauma. What’s more, a nicely kept veg patch was a reminder that a green and pleasant Britain was worth fighting for.
Fat Chance (Fourth Estate): Robert Lustig is a man who writes as if he’s shouting. But that is, to be fair, because he believes he’s got an important point to make. Sugar is a killer. It’s responsible for obese babies, teenage diabetics and middle-aged heart attacks. Lustig has all the shocking facts at his finger tips, but he also has strategies to help us wean ourselves off the white stuff. The result, he promises, won’t be just fitter bodies, but sharper minds too: the book to get your new year off to a virtuous start.
There’s a new scramble for Africa under way. With the world’s food supply set to run out sooner than we think, global speculators are grabbing marginal farmland with an eye to spectacular long-term profits. How did this happen and is it too late to do anything about a disaster in waiting? Paul McMahon’s Feeding Frenzy (Profile) doesn’t pretend that the individual food choices of affluent westerners are going to make much difference. Instead, he urges us to become “food citizens” and lobby our governments to intervene.
Historic Heston (Bloomsbury): you might think that Heston Blumenthal is a bit late to the whole revivalist strain in British cooking. For the last 15 years, we’ve been getting used to dining on bits of animals that were considered a treat in Georgian England. But Heston, being Heston, does much more than simply give us a few recipes for ye olde pig’s ear. In this lavishly illustrated volume, which costs as much as a KitchenAid, he updates historic recipes and urges you to give them a go. Mock turtle soup may be a stretch too far, but salmagundy sounds like a definite possibility.
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