I've been a bit out of sympathy with a lot of recent cookbook releases - the ones that make the table displays or are on supermarket shelves, and those basically represent the choices in Leicester. (we have a W. H. Smith, a bijou Waterstones, and a branch of The Works in the city centre, and with all due respect none of them are great for a lengthy browse or unearthing something unexpected). The drought is over now though. Sabrina Ghayour's 'Sirocco' was a much anticipated (and entirely satisfying) treat, and then I found Regula Ysewijn's 'Pride and Pudding'...
It's quite possibly the most beautiful food book I've ever seen. It might also just start to help justify my passion for pudding bowls - well all sorts of bowls really (so useful). But for someone who has made a summer pudding once in the last decade, her first Christmas pudding only 2 years ago, and no other sort of puddings at all, it's well past time to don an apron and get down to business.
What makes it such a beautiful book is the photography, the back blurb tells me that Ysewijn is a photographer and graphic designer from Belgium who's photography is inspired by Dutch and Flemish Renaissance paintings. They most certainly are, and it doesn't do any harm that she's used a lot of Burleigh pottery as well (another minor passion). Beautifully styled cookbooks full of desirable props are nothing new, but this is still something special, and it's certainly the first time I've wanted to own any of the illustrations - there are a few I'd love to buy and have on my wall in here. Bruno Vergauwen's illustrations are also a delight, full of detail and humour. They're a perfect combination, as is the mix of history (for this book is just as much about the history of the pudding as it is cookbook) and recipes.
I love the idea of food that has provenance and history, and with some exceptions (mostly tripe or offal based) love trying that food. What fascinates me most is the way in which herbs and spices were used and trying to trace the likely influence on different flavour combinations. It's something to stop and think about the journey those spices were making in the 17th and 18th centuries as well, and then there are discoveries like long pepper to be made (bless you Waitrose, and I hope you're still selling it when I want some more) and the realisation that pepper didn't always mean the same thing. Of course once discovered it's good to have some recipies to cook with these exotic old ingredients (I was interested to see how many call for barberries which I've also just noticed in Waitrose for the first time - serendipity!).
The contents cover sweet and savoury puddings be they boiled, steamed, baked, batter, or bread. There is also a chapter on jellies, milk puddings, and ices. The original recipes are included along with Regula's updated versions. So far I haven't tried to make anything, partly because I've been to busy reading the book, but mostly because I need to organise people to eat the results, as well as find the time to potter in the kitchen for long enough to really enjoy myself (I don't think a pudding should be rushed, even if it can be). First up will be one called General Satisfaction though, because how could I resist such a name? (I can't, and can't imagine who would).
And the best thing about this book? Once I'd got over the initial thrill of just how nice to look at it is, it's the realisation that it's as much a book for reading as for cooking from. The research is meticulous, the history lively and engaging, being able to taste it too is an absolute bonus.