This book has been my constant companion for the last three days, while I decided what to contribute to Christmas cooking. And it's been a pleasure to spend time in its company - for a start it is beautifully produced, with the most unctuous set of photographs I can remember. More than that, I can't read it without my mouth watering all the time. When I want to cook I generally head for my pasta cookbook, since I love Italian food and the range of dusky tomato-y sauces loaded with basil and other pungent herbs, but a visit to Genoa reminded me how delicious northern Italian dishes are. This book ranges from New England and Quebec, through Scandinavia and Russia through the Alps to northern Italy, celebrating winter food and making me long to create slow-cooked stews of wild boar, Friulian winter salads (spicy sausage, walnuts and radicchio) and melting apple cakes.
The book is subtitled "Food to warm the soul" and it does. Each chapter (with titles redolent of hedgerow and bonfire) has a long, informative introduction discussing the range of dishes which can be made from particular ingredients, the food common to an area, or offering further suggestions; each dish also has a brief preamble, usually a celebration of dish or contents, and there are carefully chosen snippets of poetry and other quotations sprinkled throughout, combining to offer a pleasurable read while curled up in front of the fire (although I usually read my cookery books in bed with a dog, so we drool together).
Some familiar flavourings, such as ginger, allspice, cinnamon, caradmom and dill, can be given a new slant by looking at how they are treated in other cool climates. Dill, for example, is an comforting, non-assertive herb...Or try caraway, once popular in Britain in breads and cakes, and now a signature flavouring in Austria, Hungary and Alsace, rubbed into roast pork or fried with potatoes.Caraway cake was the bane of my childhood; I can't think how many times we would arrive at a relative's house to be told, "I've just made a caraway cake." You'd know that you would have to eat it to be polite, and that every mouthful would taste of dust and mice. (Why mice? I don't know, but that's what it tasted of.) But Diana Henry persuades me that I might fry a spoonful in with the saute potatoes, just to see. After all, she's convinced me that beetroot is delicious.
If you are looking for a real comfort food book, I heartily recommend this one.