Of all the notable things about this book the first thing that struck me when I opened it was the smell. It’s almost certainly auto suggestion courtesy of the crocus on the cover but every time I open it I think I can smell saffron.
The second thing is that this quite clearly the culmination of a life times work, if there was any doubt the introduction confirms it, Paula Wolfert first visited Morocco 50 years ago as a 19 year old, where she found the land that Edith Wharton and Paul Bowles had described, it was obviously a life changing trip. Wolfert has written a number of books about Mediterranean food and cooking generally, a few about Moroccan food specifically but nothing a think quite as authoritative as this one. Her love for the country leaps off the page as does the knowledge gained from 7 years living there and many more visiting.
After that you just get lost in the general lusciousness of it all for a while. There are wonderful pictures, and although I'm not always a fan of lavishly illustrated cook books I'm making an exception here. Pictures that show you what the food will look like or diagrams that demonstrate something useful are always fine anyway and because this book isn't just about food, but about the country at large, all the shots of bits and pieces feel relevant as well as looking good.
In previous books Wolfert has been quite easy going about what cooking pots you use and suggested alternatives for some of the harder to acquire ingredients, but this is something of a manifesto and she's quite hard line about authenticity. I don't as yet own a tagine - I've thought about it a couple of times, they're inexpensive enough to be tempting, but do I have the space for another quite large pot in my kitchen? (No I do not.) Theoretically I love the idea of being very authentic when it comes to cooking from different cultures, realistically I've never been to Morocco and have no idea how close an approximation what I make at home is to what I might find there, and until I actually do know I'm not very worried about it. What I appreciate here is that if I was so minded I have all the instructions I need to get it absolutely right - I take the insistence on authenticity as tacit permission to fudge it a bit sometimes.
There are something like 200 recipes here, all but two of them are traditional, and they have been collected from people that Wolfert has met - this book is a true reflection of the Morocco that Wolfert knows and knew. For a change my favourite thing about it isn't a recipe but the little snippets about culture and folklore that she slips in - the section on Ras-El-Hanout is a particular treat. Otherwise the layout for each recipe is admirable in it's clarity - again something that's rarer than you might hope.
This is a wonderful book - as chance would have it possibly the perfect Christmas present - it's as informative as it is inspiring and I whole heartedly agree with the Claudia Roden quote on the cover when she says 'There is no book on the food of Morocco as good as this one'. I don't imagine there ever could be.