I've been thinking about this book for weeks now, and I'm still not quite sure how to go about writing about it. There is no shortage of well produced, informative, inspiring cookbooks around, but sometimes something really special comes along, and this book is one of those special ones.
I've been a fan of Diana Henry for a while, she's everything I most like in a food writer - practical, reliable, and warm, concentrating on thoughtful food. Her books don't sell dreams of impossible life styles, rather they're a reminder of what's entirely possible with a little bit of thought. (Thought more than effort, the kind of thought that means you have useful things in the store cupboard, and consider what you might want for dinner early enough to do something about it.). It's generous, adaptable, good natured food which has an enjoyment of cooking and eating in every line she writes. It's also food that celebrates travel, people, and small adventures - and if you consider trawling through ethnic supermarkets a little bit adventurous*, it creates adventure too.
Even by Diana Henry standards I think 'How To Eat a Peach' is special though. It's a series of menus arranged seasonally inspired by places Henry has been and meals she's eaten or prepared. The introduction to each menu makes it quite a personal book. There's a combination of memory, philosophy, and occasional glimpses of insecurity (the admission that sometimes she feels she try's to hard, and not in a good way is explored in the perfect lunch menu) that turn these menus into conversations between writer and reader.
I like the menu approach a lot, planning a well balanced meal (balanced in mood, in flavour, in texture, and timing) isn't always an easy thing to do for the home cook, and it isn't discussed as much as it might be in cookbooks generally. Which is a shame because it's a useful skill, one that doesn't go amiss when negotiating restaurant menus either. A book that gives you a whole lot of suggested what's along with plenty of why is worth having.
The recipes themselves are everything you'd expect from Henry, which means I want to eat almost every one of them. I bought this book right at the end of March, there was still the threat of snow, and I spent my first evening reading it under a duvet and 2 wool blankets, with 2 hot water bottles for company, carried away by thoughts of ice cream; chocolate and Pedro Ximenez, grapefruit and basil, coffee and cardamom, strawberry and buttermilk - flavours that totally captured my imagination.
The peach of the title - a ripe one sliced and dipped into moscato wine, left for just long enough for the fruit to become a little boozy, and the wine a little peachy is another example of why I love this book so much - two good things put together to become more than the sum of their parts, it's not complicated, but just thoughtful.
Peaches in moscato have happy memories for me from early wine selling days, and that's definitely another reason I'm so smitten with this book. It's the way it's made me look back at my own food history, sent me back to favourite authors (Jane Grigson and Claudia Roden particularly), and has underlined how important wine is in how I plan a meal. (If it's in any way an occasion I start with the wine I want to open and plan from there.) What makes 'How to Eat a Peach' so special is not just what's in it, but the way it makes you think about so much more.
*I do, if I need google to translate what something is for me I'm having an adventure, even if it's on the very smallest and most domestic scale.