Sunday, April 5, 2020

Oats in the North Wheat From the South - Regula Ysewijn

Of all the things I'm missing at the moment being able to go to a bookshop for a browse and to buy much anticipated new releases is high on my list (right behind people, and my mum's dog). Ordering online isn't the same, and it's not as if I'm short of things to read anyway, so this has more to do with how I feel about bookshops than the fear of missing out on something new.

I ordered 'Oats in the North Wheat from the South' from Waterstones (who have had some bad press through this, but are also the only real bookshop choice in the city centre, and for that I consider them a local business that needs supporting) just after the shut down, it actually arrived before the official publication date - it's one book that I didn't want to wait any longer for than I had to. It is probably my most anticipated release of the year.

I wrote about Regula's earlier book, 'Pride and Pudding' a couple of weeks ago - it's an absolute delight for anybody with an interest in food history and a love of a beautifully shot photograph. There have been a couple of books in-between - a really lovely celebration of a vanishing culture in 'Belgian Café Culture', and a useful little book about puddings published by the national trust (but sadly without Regula's photography). 'Oats in the North' is the sort of companion to 'Pride and Pudding' I've been wanting though.

After all that anticipation I haven't been disappointed. It's not so much about the recipes - a lot of which I could find elsewhere, but about everything Regula brings to her books. In this case the most noticeable thing, even more so than in 'Pride and Pudding' is the chance to see how Britain, and British baking traditions look to someone with an outside perspective.

As Dr Annie Gray says in her introduction, I recognise glimpses of the Britain that Regula and her family discovered on holidays, but it's not precisely the Britain I grew up in. There's a really engaging sense (because the descriptions are delightful and flattering) of being explained. Especially when it comes to a Belgian talking about Belgian buns (not a thing in Belgium) for which there are two recipes (19th and 20th century versions). It makes me feel like I'm discovering these things anew, and I like it. I'm also craving toast*. I hadn't really appreciated what a British thing this was

There's also the matter of the research behind each recipe. I love this kind of hands on food history - the sort I can bake myself. I particularly like that where a recipe has evolved a lot over the decades more than one version is included, as with the Belgian buns, and the bits and pieces of information about cooking conditions in those older kitchens. There's also an acknowledgment of the role slavery played in bringing sugar and other ingredients here.

There's a bit to think about with that, too much to fit into this post, but it's important to understand how that history is just below the surface of everyday life, right down to the treat that is an iced bun, or a cake.

The photography is as ever a treat to look at (I've never seen an Aberdeen buttery look beautiful before), and the range of recipes is excellent, especially if you're after carb based comfort.  Even just reading about Sally Lunns and Fat Rascals is comforting right now. I made the Welsh Cakes though. A friends grandmother used to make these when I was a child and they were the best thing. She also made excellent scotch pancakes (also known as drop scones), which are not mentioned. Both properly want a griddle and are so good whilst still warm. Welsh Cakes are the first thing I'm going to make.

I'm so pleased I got this book now. It's sustaining both to read, and to bake from, and for me at least is a reminder of happier times past, and to come.

*Not an easy thing to get at the moment. It turns out the heat of last summer was enough to kill instant yeast packets I had, so the dough I made today isn't rising. I've added a spoon of sugar and another old packet of yeast and it's doing something, but I'm not quite sure what. It's also the last of my white bread flour which is proving hard to replace right now.

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