Kate Colquhoun’s top 10 unusual cookbooks

Kate Colquhoun’s latest book is Taste: The History of Britain Through its Cooking – a chronicle of this country’s food and times from Roman dinners through Anglo-Saxon feasts and Tudor banquets, to Dickensian excess and deprivation, and beyond. She is also the author of A Thing in Disguise: The Visionary Life of Joseph Paxton.

1. The Gentle Art of Cookery by Hilda Leyel

First published in 1925 and recently reissued, this is the first collection of recipes by the founder of the Culpeper shops. There are no exact quantities, only a little instruction and no pictures but it is packed full of inspiration and connoisseurship. Leyel was ahead of her time in favouring olive oil over the monotonous generality of the boiling pot and for relying on loads of fresh fruit and vegetables. Three decades before Elizabeth David, she roasted oxtail with thyme, tossed aubergines in butter with tomatoes, parsley and a clove of garlic and stewed haricots with butter, nutmeg and celery – one of an elegant breed of new cooks in the dynamic 1920s who are all but forgotten today.

2. Modern Mezze by Anissa Helou

I’m a great fan of Anissa’s clear, precise and completely delicious recipes. Her take on modern mezze is fresh and aromatic, making the production of multiple colourful dishes a bit of a cinch once you get the hang of it. I make all the ordinary dishes – burghal or feta salads, hummus and other dips, but am completely addicted to her herb and toasted pitta salad (a Middle Eastern take on one of my favourite Italian treats) and to her cheese and cucumber wraps and broad bean risotto. Nothing is complicated here – it’s all fresh, light and easy. Most work is the grilled spiced quail – but how difficult is grilling? This is one of those books that makes you feel healthy just looking at it.

3. How to Feed Your Friends with Relish by Joanna Weinberg

Jo Weinberg’s first book, only just out, should give Nigel Slater a run for his money. It’s all about generosity and unfussiness – reminding us that cooking for mates should never be about panicking or showing off. She also has the most inspiring way with old tea towels and blowsy roses, showing you how to transform your Ikea (in my case) table into something altogether more seductive.

4. Beyond Nose to Tail by Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly

Henderson is not only the most charming man in British cookery but he takes me back to my childhood with his nose-to-tail approach to meat. Roasted pork belly, pigeon pie and venison liver, steamed puddings, goats’ curd cheesecakes and chocolate baked Alaska all trail the seduction of a very British kind of cooking that we overlook to our disgrace. Use his bread recipe and you will never look back. Fill your home with the savours of his slow cooking and you will never feel more domestically content.

5. Beans: A History by Ken Albala

This is the oddest yet most compelling of books. It’s about the history of the bean – and I mean every kind of bean you can possibly think of from all over the world. As pretty to look at as it is alluring to read, Albala’s book demonstrates that the humble, economical bean is also admirably resilient, colonising cultures and continents for millennia with the gay abandon of a runner racing up its pole (its clockwise tendrils, by the way marking it as unique among its cousins, all of whom chose to twist in the opposite direction). Albaba’s thrills at the magic of history and sent me scuttling back to the beans box, keen to bash some lentils or favas into shape.

6. The New English Kitchen, Rose Prince

In her Daily Telegraph columns, Prince shows us weekly how we can change the world by changing the way we think and the choices we make about our food. As we become increasingly alarmed about sustainability, the ethics, sources and safety of our food, we need people like her to help us navigate the minefield of contradictory advice. Her book is all about thrift, sometimes about frugality, always about clear thinking and full of inspiring and tasty recipes. The greatest honour you can show your food is not to waste it. Prince shows us how.

7. Pork and Sons by Stéphane Reynaud

Part of the charm of this book is its pale pink gingham, slightly squashy cover, its ravishing design and wry “Frenchiness”. But I am also a big fan of pork and think it incredibly underrated. If you agree, this book has it all – from sausages to roasts, black puddings to pates, dry-cured hams and confit tarts. I use it all the time. Amazingly, even the stuffed cabbage, so simple and rustic, trails the whiff of understated sophistication and nothing I’ve tried yet has ever gone wrong, which is a miracle in our kitchen.

8. Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton Paterson

This 2004 novel by the award-winning author of Gerontius and Loving Monsters follows the life of Gerald Samper, a snobbish ghost writer and aspiring gourmet. It’s a marvellous comic bad dream of a book, set in Italy and stuffed with appalling recipes all using the ghastly bitter aperitif Fernet Branca. Famously, there are mussels in chocolate, garlic ice cream and smoked cat. I’ve never wanted to cook any of it, but it has had me laughing at the supermarket checkout weeks after I finished reading it.

9. The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester

Lanchester’s novel is similar to Paterson’s but a quite different read. Tarquin Winot is an arrogant and self-deluded narrator ruminating and writing about food, recipes and culinary theory – among other things. Lanchester’s novel is a darkly humorous stream of consciousness – in part a pastiche of the “scholar cooks” like Elizabeth David and of conspicuous culinary competence. But it always has me salivating for the fresh lemon sole and coppery watercress salad or just-grilled goat’s cheese extolled by its narrator Winot – and there are recipes to follow embedded in the text.

10. The Pedant in the Kitchen, by Julian Barnes

A kitchen classic by a masterly writer, The Pedant in the Kitchen charts Barnes’s search for gastronomic precision from poverty, lack of skill and gastronomic conservatism to enthusiastic, if stricken, cook. Wry and sometimes downright angry about an imprecise recipe, the book is a collection of his perfectly-formed short articles about cooking for the Guardian: part musing, part history and part education. Daring to voice the unspoken insecurity of domestic cooks and the yawning space between aspiration and reality, Barnes’s elegant prose makes up for the kitchen’s inevitable disappointments. No recipes but plenty of sympathy.


Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/oct/15/top10s.unusual.cookbooks