Saturday, 8 January 2011

Eating for England

I've finished my first book for 2011 and it's... non-fiction! Sometimes I surprise even myself. LOL. In fact, this first book is for one of my challenges, The Foodie's Reading Challenge which is being hosted by Margot at Joyfully Retired. And the book is Eating for England by Nigel Slater.

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.


Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

Eating for England sounds like a follow on to Toast, which I read a while ago. I watched the BBC version but thought it wasn't as good as the book.

Nigel is one of my favourite food writers too - his books are so readable, aren't they? And they are so good to look at too!

Anonymous said...

What a lovely daughter you have. I love Nigel Slater both in print and on television.

I haven't read this one, but that's only because my fiance quoted from it so extensively as he read that I don't need to!

Val said...

My sis was talking about Toast (the book lol) and really enjoys all NS's writing and books...he's new to me so perhaps I better look him out !

DesLily said...

lol my cookbook days are long gone! and a big part of me doesn't care! how bad is that?! it could be because I have no one to cook for in over 20 yrs ..yeah that's the ticket!

Cath said...

Margaret: It's not really a follow on to Toast. I wonder if what happened was that he had a positive reaction to the nostalgic bits in that book and decided to do a whole book in that vein.

I agree, his books are very readable, he's an excellent writer, in my opinion.

Fleurfisher: Yes, I can confirm that I have a lovely daughter. :-)

It does sound like your fiance saved you the trouble of reading the book for yourself!

Val: For a bit of foodie reading I think you could do a lot worse than Nigel Slater.

Pat: I certainly do a lot less in some cooking areas than I used to. hardly ever bake for instance as Peter isn't supposed to eat too much cake and I *certainly* don't need it.

fiction-books said...

Hi Cath,

I try to avoid drooling over cookery books too often these days.

Neither of us need, nor can afford the weight gain, to eat cakes, biscuits or desserts.

Therefore my baking days are few and far between.

Not that I am particularly bothered, I was never that interested in it.

Mystica said...

That Brighton Rock (?) on the cover looks yummy. It is about 30 years since I ate some.

LizF said...

I love Nigel Slater because he has such delicious no-fuss recipes that fit in with family meals which is always my favourite type of cooking!
I have cleared out all the chef-y cookery books that I acquired and now stick to a hardcore of books that work for me including a couple of Nigel's earlier books.
My son bought me Nigella Lawson's latest book for Christmas as we had liked so many of the recipes she did in her most recent TV series and her recipes are do-able as well.
Must look out for Eating For England as a book to dip in and out of.

Cath said...

Yvonne: I used to bake a lot when the girls were small and quite enjoyed trying new recipes. These days if I bake it tends to be pastry based, fruit pies when the family come. Or, just occasionally, I bake my husband a batch of scones as they're low in fat and sugar and he really does love them.

Mystica: I come from an area (Cornwall) where rock was freely available all year round so used to love it too. These days I avoid it as I'm afraid I would lose fillings or even whole teeth! LOL

LizF: Yes, I completely agree with you about NS. His lemon and black pepper chicken has become a staple with us as it's so easy and tastes delicious.

Funnily enough, one of my new year plans is to completely clear out my cookery books and only keep the ones I actually use too.

I'm a Nigella fan too. She too cooks food that people actually want to eat. It's become a tradition with us to cook her Pork ribs recipe for Boxing Day - they are so tasty.

Nan said...

It sounds so wonderful. I have the sense that Toast was sad, and hence his life was sad?
When we were first there in 1971, I remember all the restaurants we went to, except Cranks-which was our vegetarian oasis- offered 'beet root.' Is it still a hit over there?

Cath said...

Nan: Nigel lost his mother when he was quite young and then his father remarried a woman he didn't like. So, yes, it was all a bit sad really.

Beetroot? Well, these days it's popular with people who grow their own fruit and veg - like us - and probably vegetarians but otherwise I suspect many people never have it. They don't know what they're missing.

Susan said...

I love Nigel! I have most of his books, though of course you have three I don't: Eating for England, and the two new ones your daughter gave you. I really want those, too. Lovely review, Cath. I have to get these books now! lol

He taught me how to make bangers and mash, and roast a chicken perfectly almost every time. I love his Observer columns too.