You will never know how hard I fought against the urge to use some sort of pun in the title for this post but I successfully resisted. I am extremely fond of Prospect Books and it's proprietor Tom Jaine, though I must admit with the latter that it's cupboard love; he sends me books from time to time which never fail to delight me be it something like Gereldine Holt's 'Cakes' - just excellent - or Blandine Vie's 'Testicles' which has amused or discombobulated whoever has seen it (reaction is generally dictated by gender). I don't doubt that Tom is charming in real life too, his letters and emails certainly are - such as today when he sent me some copies of his food journal Petits Propos Culinaires (PPC for short). Now I know I've read about it before but I hadn't given it much thought, you get 3 copies a year for £18 (which represents pretty good value compared to Slightly Foxed and Hortus which it's not at all dissimilar to) and I will be subscribing immediately (stopping only to blog about it first).
As Tom says (I hope he doesn't mind me calling him Tom) "Had it been founded in the last 5 years rather than in 1980, it would most likely have been a blog and you might think that we would be best advised to convert to electronic publication at full speed. But there are plenty of people who still enjoy the printed word, find a small book fits more easily into the reticule or brief case, can be consulted at ease on the throne or be cuddled closely in bed. So we stick with the printed form."
Well I prefer the printed form and enjoy food history; the two hours I spent on buses today was rendered much more enjoyable by the copy of PPC I read. The illustrations are black and white and there are no recipes - this isn't food porn, instead what you get are a series of thoughtful and thought provoking articles about food writing, it's history, and again quoting Tom "...what might charitably be called ethnography and some frivolities to lighten the mix." My favourite section though is the book reviews which range from the lengthy and erudite to the short and pithy.
Talking about 'Honey and Preserves' (the little Fortnum and Mason book) the other day I touched on a growing feeling of over exposure towards all those lavishly photographed personality heavy cook books. The best food writer I've ever read is Jane Grigson, her books are wonderful; full of anecdote, history, and excellent reliable recipes all of which come with a provenance (I like my wines to reflect their terroir* and prefer food which does something similar) there are no pictures. Prospect's books do the same thing, amongst other activities they showcase good writing, the history of our food culture (which is pretty much the history of our culture) the slightly off beat (Testicles and Tripe) and what to do with single crop gluts (Rhubarb and Courgettes) it's exciting.
Publishers like this deserve attention and support - they make my shelves more interesting, but there books aren't always the easiest to find - seek them out and at least take a look at what they have to offer.
*Terroir loosely translates as a sense of place - it refers to the geography, geology, and climate of a vineyard all of which should go to make a wine that's unique to its own particular spot. There's a sort of romance in the idea which appeals to me and once you've had a surfeit of identi-kit fruit forward wines (think of every new world sauvignon blanc you've had under a tenner) something distinctive is a blessing.