Sunday, November 25, 2018

Revisiting Salt Sugar Smoke - Diana Henry

I had a slightly unrealistic plan of getting up early this morning to make chutney (what with it being Stir up Sunday and the puddings already made) before going to see the Fantastic Beasts film (better than I expected it to be) with a friend. I'll probably make chutney next week. But I did have a good sort out and clear out of my kitchen.

I've been doing quite a lot of that over the last couple of weeks, and if nothing outwardly looks particularly different, getting rid of a few bags worth of stuff has made me feel a lot better. The kitchen clear out has been especially fruitful, because I can get back into the cupboard where all the pans are, remove things easily, and without danger of an avalanche of cast iron pot lids landing on an unwary foot.

I've also been searching for a half remembered chutney recipe, after a good bit of hunting it turned up where I should have looked first; Diana Henry's 'Salt Sugar Smoke'. I love cookbooks, possibly rather more than I love cooking (though I love that too), and there is always a new book that's getting the lion's share of the attention. I copy tried and tested recipes into a notebook to make them easier to find which is great but further cuts down browsing in old books.

Really looking through 'Salt Sugar Smoke' again was a welcome reminder of just how very good this book is. Any Cookbook in my kitchen is there because I've found a good few things in it that I want to make, but this one has me wanting to make almost everything, and cursing how difficult it is to source white currents.

It has been the jams and jellies I've been particularly drawn to in the past - they have a particular magic, both in the process of making, but also in the way that you are literally preserving a moment of summer fruitfulness that can be bought forth to brighten some future, duller, day. This time I've been looking more closely at some of the pickles. Perhaps it's time to have another go at herring (a previous attempt didn't go particularly well).

There are other things too, but you don't need my wish list of recipes to try, you need to look at this book yourself (if you don't already know it, and if you have it, but haven't looked at it for a while go back to it). I wouldn't necessarily say it's Henry's best book (although I might put up a spirited argument to that effect) but it is my favourite.

It comes back to the romance I find in the idea of preserves, coupled with the practicality of it, and the sense of continuing a deeply rooted tradition. Generations of people have made these things, often from necessity - to use things which would otherwise spoil, and to make sure there is food for leaner times. I like being reminded of the effort it takes to make a batch of jam - a little trouble to check the fruit is in good condition, to sterilise the jars, and time to prepare and boil it. A lot of these recipes need to be done in stages over a day or two, or more. Doing that for myself occasionally turns every pot of jam, bought or made, into something special rather than another thing I take for granted.

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