I've had a copy of 'How to Eat' for a long time, but I didn't get it when it first came out, and one way or another have never really paid it much attention, so it's twentieth anniversary has given me a welcome second chance.
As a longstanding Nigella fan it should have been a book that was a kitchen staple and I wondered for a bit why it hadn't been, which in turn was a reminder of the unique place cookbooks hold in a personal library, and how they hold memories.
In 1998 I was being paid £3.50 an hour (as a cook in a nursery) and my then boyfriend was a vegetarian, so the cookbooks I was buying were all about trying to expand a vegetarian repertoire beyond pasta bakes. Cookbooks were comparatively more expensive then too (taking inflation into account the average cover price was the equivalent of £50, and not nearly as much deep discounting) they were considered rather than impulse purchases.
My first, and very much loved, Nigella book was 'How to be a Domestic Goddess'. It came before baking was as fashionable as it is now, and at the time was a reminder that making time to be creative -in this case in the kitchen- is a precious and wonderful thing. Cooking is one way to impose a bit of order and control on a difficult day, and 'How to be a Domestic Goddess' added comfort and a bit of healthy self indulgence to that.
The tone of it also felt fresh, I've never been much of a fan of Nigella's TV persona, but on the page she's a different woman. Funnier, smarter, and all round better company. Everything felt like stuff I could and would make. I bought and used the following books with equal enthusiasm as they came out over the next few years (Nigella bites, Forever Summer, Feast, and Nigella's Christmas' are all favourites) and at some point was given 'How to Eat'.
I know I've used it, there's a beef and prune stew which I go back to over and again, and enough stains to show it's been off the shelf a few times, but it doesn't spark the memories that some of those others do, there's nothing tucked between the pages. It was only when I picked it up the other day that I realised how underused it had been. My loss.
Reading through it, the current wave of enthusiasm and love for this book makes perfect sense. It's a classic - it feels fresh in the way that classics do. It still reflects the way we shop, cook, and want to eat - wellness and clean eating fads aside (Nigella doesn't do that shit). The lack of pictures make it feel like it belongs to an older tradition, but the acknowledgment that people want very specific instructions is contemporary. Mostly though it's the love of good food that shines through it that makes this such a brilliant book, and god, am I grateful for the prompt to take a better look at it.