First of all I have to confess to being a huge fan of Nigel Slater's.
He's not an actual chef but a food writer for The Observer newspaper who not only publishes cookbooks but presents cookery programmes on the BBC. His style is not your usual; Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver he is not. Nigel is a man in love with food and it shows. He has a wonderful, almost seductive manner of talking about the food as he chops, stirs, mixes, 'eats'... certainly one of the most soothing voices on television in my opinion. On his website he says:
"There is something quietly civilizing about sharing a meal with other people. The simple act of making someone something to eat, even a bowl of soup or a loaf of bread, has a many-layered meaning. It suggests an act of protection and caring, of generosity and intimacy. It is in itself a sign of respect."
I completely agree.
Anyway, Nigel Slater has a number of cookbooks available in bookshops but he also has an autobiography, Toast, a really excellent read which was dramatised by the BBC this Christmas, and Eating for England.
The British have a curiosly broad culinary identity. Only the naive would now try to pin us down as a meat-and-two-veg culture. You could argue that ours is a rich and multiculturally exciting cuisine reflecting a country of diverse tastes and open minds; but equally it sometimes looks as if we are in a state of total culinary shambles.
Pretty accurate I would say, and Eating for England is a book that illustrates that fact. Mostly, it's a nostalgic look back at the kind of things us Brits ate when we were younger. He's around the same age as me so much of this nostalgia resonated with me very strongly. He discusses at great length the biscuits we ate then and sometimes still eat; the sweets and chocolate, some of which are still with us, some not; the puddings which were normal fare but which now tend to be cooked by posh restaurants (some of us still make them!). But also he's a great advocate for shopping at Farmer's Markets and local butchers rather than the supermarket. Which is fine if you have these available to you but not everyone does. I find the Farmer's Market to be expensive to be honest and where meat is concerned I shop both in the local butcher and the supermarket.
This book is packed full of interest really. There are lovely little observations about us as a nation: the awkard way we tip in restaurants, the various types of home cooks, how to throw a coffee morning, splitting the bill - how there is always the one person who wants to pay for exactly what they had - what to eat for tea in the winter sitting by the log fire, summer picnics, food shopping on the internet. The list is endless to be honest. Really and truly anyone wanting to understand the culinary side of the British should read this book. It's a lot of fun (you have to be able to laugh at yourself), it's nostalgic and it's also quite instructive with many ideas and thoughts. In Nigel's words:
Eating for England is simply a personal celebration of the food this nation cherishes, the rituals we observe, the curious and even eccentric thing that is the British and their food.
And what did I get as late Christmas present from my eldest daughter this year? These:
My husband said, 'Not more cookbooks!' as I drooled over the beauty of these books. They are truly a work of art... about as seductive as the man himself.