I am obsessed with food. I love to buy it, prepare it, cook it, preserve it, research it, talk about it and eat it. (Usually Sarah and the kids like to eat it, too.)
I love books about food. For the recipes they contain, sure, but also as real, physical objects, with beatiful page design and big photographs.
Here are my top five books about food, from sauce-splattered kitchen essentials to more thoughtful bedtime reads.
River Cottage Every Day – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
This is easily my most used cookbook. Much as I love the enormous early River Cottage books, with their incredibly in-depth looks into sustainability and the food industry, here Hugh FW boils down his cooking ethos into a good-sized bunch of recipes.
More than the recipes though, I love this book because it shares cooking principles. It doesn’t just give a hummus recipe, but gives the guiding principles behind hummus, along with a few variations, so you’re equipped to do it yourself. The same goes for soups, salads, coleslaw, compote, meaty roasts, and innumerable others delicious things.
The one thing I’ve made most often? Chocolate brownies. These are also what I request every birthday from Sarah and the kids.
How to Make Bread – Emmanuel Hadjiandreou
I make bread pretty regularly, and more so since becoming a mainly-stay-at-home dad. Where baking a loaf used to be labour-intensive and stressful, this book has totally changed that.
It has step-by-step pictures, great explanations and really interesting bread recipes. But the one thing that will transform your bread making is Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s kneading and rising technique. Simple and effective.
Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual – Michael Pollan
Not a recipe book, but a collection of short bursts of food wisdom. Pollan is probably the world’s most well-known and respected writers on sustainability, food ethics and the food industry. This book is a digested version of some of his earlier work, with 64 one-liners (each with a brief explanation) to help you make informed, responsible and healthy choices.
Example ‘rules’ include:
2) Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food.
20) It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.
47) Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored.
60) Treat treats as treats.
Pretty cheap to pick up. This is a great one to dip into on your lunch break (or at nap time!).
Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book – Jane Grigson
This could technically be called a ‘recipe book’, in that it includes recipes. It’s so much more, though. Jane Grigson – whose death 25 years ago has just been commemorated in the Observer Food Monthly – writes with incredible detail about all kinds of fruit, from the familiar to the exotic. She weaves in ancient mythology, food history, geography and wonderful personal anecdotes.
I don’t think I’ve ever made one of the recipes, but I did once rush out to buy some papayas purely on Jane’s recommendation.
Short and Sweet – Dan Lepard
This is a bit of a beast, covering anything which could be conceived of as ‘baking’. Breads, cakes, pies, meringues, pastries, they’re all in this 560 page behemoth.
It also contains a lot of explanation, introduction, scientific reasoning and helpful bakerly advice, all explained in as simple a way as possible. I don’t use it as much as the River Cottage, but then I don’t eat cake every day either (which is a pity). It also makes me sad when the recipe I’m making has no picture in the book, but I understand that would have probably added another 200 pages or so.
Most frequently cooked recipe – peanut butter chocolate chip cookies.
What are your favourite books about food? Do they ever make it into the kitchen? Or are they reserved for a quiet read in the evening?