I’ve held this in the Draft section for about ten days, now.
Initially it was too early to publish (for me, nothing including the word ‘Christmas’ is allowed before the start of Advent). But then the floodgates opened and it seemed there was a ‘Christmas book ideas’ or ‘books of the year’ list published on the hour, every hour of the last five days. Why add to the noise?
Well, my resolve and finger have slipped and I’ve pressed publish.
Whilst of course I’m biased, I do think food-related books are a cracking gift — superb value, tactile, heavier than a pair of socks. And maybe, just maybe, this list will still be of use, rather than something that tips you over the edge and stops you from buying any books at all.
I know I should say go forth and buy these from an independent bookseller. But if you click on the links you’ll find some ridiculous Amazon prices. I suggest a policy of purchasing at least one for you and one for a friend at the same time; then our consciences will be a little clearer.
Merry Christmas and all that.
p.s. It’s not really a ‘best of 2016’ list, but the following certainly number among my favourites.
For intrepid eaters
One cookbook genre that’s been hot over the past few years is ‘Discovery Cooking’ — i.e. food from places other than these isles, looked at in finer detail than British cooks have done in the past (if at all). Think, for example, of Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana, Olia Hercules’ Mamushka and Jordan Bourke and Rejina Pyo’s Our Korean Kitchen.
In 2016, a standout of this style is Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Fish and Rice. This cookbook explores the food of China’s Lower Yangtze region, and just gets better and better every time I delve into it. The recipes are totally achievable, whilst also appearing fully authentic and often exotic. It really is very good, and quite possibly my favourite of the year. Anyone with any interest in Eastern cuisine will love it.
Perhaps not so much a ‘discovery’ book, but still an impressively thorough piece of work, is Monika Linton’s Brindisa: the true food of Spain. This weighty tome is encyclopaedic in its reach and will appeal to fans and aficionados of Spanish food.
For fans of food, but not of faff
Two excellent books fall into this category. Both will be used by the recipient, rather than left on a shelf.
First, the Ducksoup Cookbook, by Claire Lattin and Tom Hill. This is food inspired by their ace Soho restaurant of the same name, which majors on taking great ingredients, and doing the bare minimum to them to ensure the plate’s a good one. The subtitle is “the wisdom of simple cooking“; and the beautifully and thoughtfully designed and written book does an excellent job at making the restaurant’s delicious food accessible for anyone. A really good gift for keen foodies you think might be in search of simple ways with new(ish) flavour combinations.
On which note, Diana Henry’s latest book, Simple, is one of her very best. Which is saying something. It does exactly what it says on the tin, presenting the reader with multiple recipes which are easy and fuss free, but do not compromise on flavour or effect. I mentioned when previously writing about Simple, that “it hits the all too rare sweet spot of offering totally achievable recipes that people are likely to cook, whilst remaining interesting and creative“.
For cooks and foragers
Lady Nigella noted that Gather, by Gill Mellor, “does for contemporary British food what Ottolenghi has done for contemporary Middle Eastern cooking”. That’s major praise, and I think it’s deserved. This recipe book is inventive, fresh, well written, beautifully photographed, and features so many recipes and flavour combinations that you won’t have seen before, yet which are totally of our terroir. Intriguing and innovative and all very doable. Bit jealous, tbh.
You bought them Anna Jones’ A Modern Way to Cook last year, and A Modern Way to Eat the year before. Time to branch out and add a little spice to the mix. Meera Sodha’s Fresh India is packed full of vibrant and interesting ways to use vegetables. A mix of Gujarati roots and British ingredients tempts and intrigues. Highly recommended. And, actually, that recommendation extends beyond full-on vegetarians to meat lovers too.
For the person who may or may not like food, but definitely likes pictures and nice things
Get them Herbarium. A striking and fantastically designed book about herbs (obviously). It’s not a recipe book, but will suit any discerning coffee table or bog. If, by chance, the recipient is a food or gardening fan, they’ll absolutely love it.
For Joseph and Mary
If you’ve friends or family expecting bambinos (immaculate conception or otherwise), or they’ve recently popped them out, they should absolutely read First Bite: How we learn to eat, by Bee Wilson — a fascinating exploration of how our taste for food develops. Technically it was published in 2015, but only on 31 December, so surely it’s something to add to this year’s stockings.
Because it’s Christmas
I’m not sure there’s a cookbook more appropriate to the Nativity, or the ‘giving’ mentality of Christmas, than #CookforSyria. This book, which will start to arrive on doorsteps on 12 December, is a fairly extraordinary compilation of cracking recipes by a huge number of contributors; from the very famous putting a Syrian twist onto their own dishes, through to Syrian families providing authentic classics. The campaign, which ran through November, has already raised awareness and £125,000 for an important cause, but there’s so much more to do. It’ll be welcomed by any home cook, whether they’ve an interest in the UK food scene, a taste for Middle Eastern cuisine, or just know a good cause when they see one. No room on the bookshelf? Rubbish.