I used to occasionally read Kate Young’s column in The Guardian, but never with a great deal of enthusiasm. If it was a book I knew and loved the recipes were never ones I would have chosen, if it was a book I didn’t know, I didn’t much care. On the back of that it’s been a surprise to me how much I like her Little Library cookbooks.
I think it’s because the books give more space for her personality to come through, and I find her immensely likeable in this format (I’d love to hear her do a regular radio programme or podcast). The photography in The Little Library Year is also particularly good, and the range of books is spot on too - so really there’s a lot to like.
The Little Library Year was a Christmas present from my mother so it’s appropriate that it yielded up the perfect birthday cake for the dinner I cooked for her last night. It was a blood orange cake that provided just the right combination of colour, citrusy freshness, and winter beating robustness (thanks to a good proportion of ground almonds) to balance out the meal. The cake is sort of inspired by Sherlock Holmes, and so is a whisky and tea cocktail I’ve been playing around with, both of which belong in The Long Winter Nights chapter. I absolutely agree with the pleasure of reading Sherlock Holmes in January too.
Something else I really like about this book - it breaks the year down into 6 seasons, correctly identifying the huge difference between pre Christmas winter/late autumn (As The Days Grow Short) and post Christmas winter (The Long Winter Nights), as well as early spring (The First Signs Of Spring) and Spring in Abundance (May June time).
In many ways the post Christmas part of winter is my favourite time of year so it’s pleasant to find somebody else writing about the good things about it. I like it so much that now we’re a month past the solstice and it’s noticeably lighter I feel a little bit sad about it. Cold grey days are the best time to live in a city without a garden, the time of year I don’t feel guilty about retiring to bed with a book at 6.30 pm and staying put for the night.
Yet another thing I really like about ‘The Little Library Year’ is the way it uses books for inspiration for what to cook. Sometimes the links here are tenuous, at others they’re quite literal. Both encourage me to make my own connections, it’s fun, but I also deeply believe that following those connections adds pleasure to the food or drink, and more powerful layers of association to what I might be reading. All good things.
The recipes themselves, like the books, are an interesting mix. Young’s reading is more eclectic than mine (more contemporary fiction, much more children’s fiction) but there’s enough overlap to be comfortable (like a party that turns out to have enough people you like at it to make it probable you’ll like most the other guests too). Food wise there are a few things I know, or am immediately drawn to, but more which I wouldn’t automatically think of - which makes it the ideal book for me to turn to for ideas when I’m otherwise at a bit of a loss.
I should probably mention again that it’s a really enjoyable book to just sit down with a read for a bit as well. If you’re not already familiar with Kate Young it’s really worth looking up her Guardian columns as a start point, and looking out for either of The Little Library Books.