Friday, March 1, 2013

Food From Plenty - Diana Henry

This book came out in 2010 when I took a look at it and decided I didn't need another cookbook (I know, I know, I probably wasn't feeling well at the time, and certainly can't have been feeling at all myself). In defence of my poor judgement I was feeling the economic pinch at the time even more than I do know (which is a shocking thought in itself). Since then though there has been 'Salt Sugar Smoke' which turned out to be one of those magical books that felt like it had been written just for me (I know it wasn't, but still - it couldn't have been more perfect) and called for a proper evaluation of Diana Henry's books. The more I read the more I like her.

I've spent quite a lot of time looking for ideas in 'Food From Plenty' over the last few weeks and found some cracking things, but it's only tonight that I've looked at the introduction - it's all good stuff making some very valid points (all of which I agree with) especially in the first couple of paragraphs. Henry started writing this book just before the economy nose dived at which point editors and publishers started looking for pieces on cheap food but for Diana this was missing the point. She makes the case that before recession struck we were already beginning to embrace a more seasonal and local approach to food and that the amount of food being thrown away had become an issue. Cheap food isn't really the answer - a desire for cheap meat has, after all, landed us in a situation where we have to finally admit we don't have a clue what we've been eating, which is hardly reassuring.

The key to this book and the philosophy behind it is to buy wisely and to use everything. Fruit and veg in season is far cheaper, and tastes far better, than out. Good quality meat doesn't have to be prohibitively expensive, especially if it's a less popular cut, and cooking a bit extra with a view to leftovers is sensible too; it saves cooking everything from scratch later in the week which in turn saves both time and money. With this in mind the recipes for prime cuts of meat and salmon are followed by lots of ideas for things to do with the extra bits, the same is also true for pulses and grains and because the recipes come from all over the world using the same core ingredients doesn't mean eating obvious variations on the same them three days in a row.

I'm lucky in Leicester - we still have quite a good market - though I can't say it gets the love it deserves (market shopping is a skill, there is very definitely still a buyer beware element to the experience, but if you're prepared to go with what's good on the day there are terrific bargains to be had). Fruit especially can be very cheap which brings me to my favourite recipe in this book so far 'Apricot and Almond upside down cake'. I love these very moist, nutty, cakes which can be dressed up with a bit of cream or dressed down with a cup of tea and I'm always tempted to buy apricots off the market despite knowing that half will be too bruised to use and the rest will be rock hard and tasteless. The thing is you get at least 20 of the little blighters for a pound and the poor girls on the stall (it's an open market) look so cold at this time of year, this cake gives them their best chance with a really wonderful balance of sweet and tart as well as a generally sunny appearance that's very welcome in late winter.

A couple of years down the line the message in this book makes more sense than ever, as well as it just being generally excellent. One I'm so pleased I didn't miss out on!


  1. Sounds like a recipe book I'd use, I've added it to my wish list

  2. All her books are Lovely Karoline, and there's something particularly delightful about a book that blends economy with abundance.