Friday, October 7, 2022

Spice/a Cook's Companion - Mark Diacono

In a change from the weird, it's time to embrace the other thing that autumn is big on  - new cookbooks. I've bought so many and have so many more on my wish list for as and when they appear that I actually had a serious purge the other day and got rid of roughly a dozen older titles that I simply don't use. 

I used to hate doing this, but somewhere along the line the numbers have become a little overwhelming and so much like with clothes, if I haven't worn it, or cooked from it, in a couple of years, never turn to it for inspiration, and don't feel whatever buzz was there when I first bought it - it goes. It's generally a relief to clear the decks a little and be better able to see what I've got. Maybe one day I'll lose the desire to constantly acquire new cookbooks, but however handy (and economical) that would be I can't imagine it happening anytime soon. Not whilst how people write about food keeps evolving,

Spice is the third in what I guess is a series of books by Diacono, with Herbs and Sour being the other two. They're all great, and what I particularly love about 'Spice' is that although Mark clearly doesn't share my aversion to chilies, spice in this book doesn't just mean hot. If hot is your thing, don't worry though, there's no shortage of that either.

It's easy to take the supermarket spice rack for granted - even in our post-Brexit world of gaps we don't really mention, the everyday availability of once-rare commodities is ever-growing, spreading from the internet to high-end deli's down to Waitrose and into every supermarket thereafter. It came as a shock to me after Leicester with its plethora of international supermarkets that I couldn't buy Pul Bibir off the shelf in the Scottish Borders...

The magic of spices is their ability, combined just so, to evoke whole cuisines, and then reconfigured to conjure somewhere altogether different. Or just to transform a base ingredient into something new so that a glut of something doesn't have to stay a glut of the same thing - there's a world of difference between the damson and cinnamon jelly I made and the damson and vanilla jam. 

What 'Spice' will give me is a lot more inspiration. the mincemeat recipe is intriguingly different from the one I normally make, the recipe for quince ratafia is timely (I don't have lemon verbena because I don't have a garden, but I might be able to get some), and there are some takes on egg nog that sound amazing. There are pickles, and breads, and sauces, and more. 

It's also worth saying, as I have with every one of his books, Mark Diacono is excellent company to be reading. His books are funny, inviting, and idiosyncratic, and that's what I return to books for as much as the recipes - books that make cooking feel like a collaboration, an adventure, a conversation so that using them is as satisfying in its way as consuming the results. 

No comments:

Post a Comment