Book review: Eating for England

Finally, we’re beginning to hit that time of the year when the mind doesn’t turn to mists and mellow fruitfulness, but to stews, steamed puddings and all manner of stodgy warming goodness. And the hand turns to the cookery books on the shelf for inspiration.

To be honest, that’s all the cookery books on my shelf get used for, that or propping the door open. I cook so infrequently that I wouldn’t be surprised if the oven door had healed over (I probably should thank Joan Rivers for that line as it sounds so much like her). But I do like to watch people cooking and to peruse through what’s known in our house as ‘food porn’ – that oh so enticing looking roast chicken or that sinfully dripping chocolate cake.

One of my favourite books this year that I’ve dipped into and drooled over time and again is Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen. There’s no real need to describe what it’s about – it does what it says on the cover – but it’s Nigel’s writing that I find as enjoyable as the pictures. It’s a very realistic book – he’s totally honest about what he really ate rather giving us what he wants us to think he eats. So there are entries about fish-finger sandwiches and the evening he drank too much wine so had a bag of crisps. But there are also recipes for the adventurous and for the culinarily confused, and, at its heart, it’s a celebration of the local and seasonal.

I also loved Toast, his autobiography of sorts. Interwoven with his quite Gothic upbringing are observations about the food he loves and hates and how the mention of them can take you back to a particular time. It’s a trick he uses again to excellent and entertaining effect in Eating for England: The Delights and Eccentricities of the British at Table in which he explores how we’ve been shaped by the food we eat as a nation.

Each of the sections is very short, so it’s easy to dip in and out of. But I really don’t recommend you read it when you’re hungry (or even peckish) as you’ll want the various sweets (making you feel like a kid again), biscuits, cakes and other assorted goodies. Along the way you’ll learn such indispensable things as:

* The real origins of jelly babies as Peace babies after the First World War. And did you know they all have names now? Bumper (orange), Bubbles (lemon), Boofuls (lime), Bigheart (blackcurrant), Brilliant (raspberry) and Baby Bonny (strawberry). Someone needs to get out more!

* The Fray Bentos pie is named after a village in Uruguay

* The majestic stalwarts of the British sweetshop were all invented in just seven years, between 1930 and 1937 (look away now if you’re addicted) – the Mars Bar, Black Magic, Aero, Maltesers, Quality Street, KitKat, Rolo, Crunchie, Cadbury’s Wholenut and Smarties

* There used to be such a thing as a muffin worry (not that they’re burnt, but a gathering where you could sort out the gossip and worries of the day).

Delicious, with zero fat and almost no calories (if you’re good and don’t reach for the biscuit tin).