Monday, October 28, 2019

Sour - Mark Diacono

I bought a few cookbooks back in September whilst I was posting about Vermouth, and because I've thought about them a bit since then keep thinking I've posted about them too. Mostly It turns out I haven't, and that's a particular omission when it comes to 'Sour' which is truly something a bit special.

If I struggle to get on with bitter (well, I struggle with Campari anyway), I like sour - it is the magical element that can transform your cooking. This book has also transformed my view of quinces which is why I've put off making dinner to write about it immediately.

I have a troubled relationship with quinces - they make a tremendous jelly (Diana Henry's Recipe with star anise is brilliant and now a yearly staple, although this year I was impatient and potted it about 5 minutes before I should have, it's a very loose set.) but I've really disliked everything else I've ever made with them. I find the grainy texture unappealing in tarts and pies, didn't like them in a tahini, really didn't like what they did to Brandy, and had almost given up on anything but jelly.

That was before I tried a slice of pickled quince about an hour ago... I had more of them than I needed for the jelly, and there was a recipe in 'Sour' for them - as there is in 'Salt, Sugar, Spice', but this is the one that actually made me tackle peeling the dratted things. In pickle form the grainy texture of the fruit works for me, the scent of them is tremendous, and the balance of flavours is spot on (a hint of clove and juniper, the perfumed personality of the quince, sugar sweetness, and a just sharp enough vinegar hit - it's perfect).

I can't overstate how big a thing this is for me (it feels like the happy end of a long and arduous quest), but it's probably time to move on... Quinces aside, 'Sour' is a beautifully written book. Diacono's books are always enjoyable to read, his combination of enthusiasm, knowledge, humour, and anecdote is particularly engaging.

The book gives an excellent overview of what sourness is, and various souring skills, before giving recipes for food and drinks. It's a wonderful book to go into this winter with (citrus season is here) when I think a lot of us will want those bright lively flavours. Flicking through it again now I'm making a mental list of all sorts of things I'll have time for when redundancy lands in just over a week. Getting another sourdough starter going, looking out for winter herring to souse, maybe start making my own yoghurt...

I know I have recipes or instructions for all of these things elsewhere, but it's the opening chapters of this book which are making more sense of the whole idea of sourness to me - bringing things together with an enthusiasm I can't resist. It's the sort of book that changes how you think about food and flavour, and which I expect to be comprehensively nominated for awards (which it deserves to win). The sort of book that takes you on a journey and sends you off to learn all sorts of other things (there's a handy list of resources at the back to help with just that).

Quinces should still be available to pickle (I will be looking for more) this is Diana Henry's Recipe, but seriously, buy 'Sour', you need it.

If you buy directly from the Otter farm Website there are a choice of price bands based on what you can afford - buying the book at full price will subsidise discounts for those who can't afford it, it's a project worth supporting - the souring skills are the kind of thing that we all ought to be learning for so many reasons.

1 comment:

  1. I have been eyeing this book off at work for a couple of months now. You may just have sold me!!