Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons by Diana Henry

Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons is essentially a companion volume to Roast Figs, Sugar Snow, which I reviewed recently here, and considers summer, as opposed to winter, food. It's subtitled "Enchanting Dishes from the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa" and certainly fulfils its brief. I'm enchanted. It follows the same format as the other book, with sumptuous illustrations, apposite literary quotations and introductions to both sections and individual recipes which convey practical information and sheer delight in the food described:

[T]here were dishes whose poetry came from their evocative names or stories, as well as from their taste. Think of Ice in Heaven, a Middle Eastern milk pudding of rose-perfumed ground rice; Pearl Divers' Rice, honey-sweetened rice from Bahrain to be eaten with lamb, so-called because its high sugar content was thought to help pearl divers stay under longer; or the Crazy Water of the title, an Italian dish of seabass poached in a salty, garlicky broth, cooked by the fishermen of the Amalfi coast.

Makes you want to head straight for the jar of olives in the fridge, doesn't it? I was delighted to find a recipe for socca, the delicious chickpea pancake sold in varied forms in street markets around the Riviera. There are three wonderful orange salads – we tend to use oranges mainly in desserts, but the two savoury ones here are superb with grilled meat, and much my favourite way to eat oranges. The recipes are all straightforward, and well within the compass of the average cook; I don't think an absolute novice would have any real difficulties although someone who has never made bread before might need a little practice.

The introductions to each section don't just comment on the recipes, but offer additional ideas and sensible advice; in some cookery books these are the bits that you skip but here they are both informative and seductive, and encourage you to experiment. Her comments on lavender, for instance, acknowledge that it can be hard to get fresh if you don't garden yourself so, after intriguing suggestions for ways in which the herb might be used, there is advice about substituting dried lavender if necessary.

This is real summer food, nothing is included that looks too heavy to eat on the hottest of days, and everywhere the use of the freshest ingredients is encouraged, not in a "preachy" way, but by the author's evident pleasure in her subject:

We tend to think much more about basic ingredients – a good chicken, a fresh fish – than the additions. But just as you might deliberate over a plain string of pearls, a pair of gaudy glass earrings or a fine silver chain to go with that little black dress, think about how herbs can create a totally different mood and tone. They are the invaluable accessories of the culinary world – both for everyday wear or for dressing up.

Need I say more?


elizabethm said...

What a coincidence - younger daughter who is a very keen cook has just bought herself both of these and was enthusing about them last week when I stayed with her in London.
thanks for your comment on mine. How often do you go down to London and for what?

elizabethm said...

Have also had a rush of fellow feeling on your booking through thursday blog.

GeraniumCat said...

I found these through my sons, Elizabeth, they keep up a constant flow of intriguing cookery books. I go to London at least once a month (3 times this month) where I share office space - I try to fit in a bit of culture/social activity as well, since I don't often get that at home.

Tara said...

I've heard of this book - and it does sound absolutely gorgeous. I'm glad you are enjoying it so much.

GeraniumCat said...

Tara, I'm utterly hooked on cookery books at the moment. Think it must be a winter thing, a sort of vicarious sybarism.

Anonymous said...

I love fruit served with meats. Actually that ought to simply read I love fruit - serve it with whatever you like! I must look for this in the library. My problem with cookery books is that so many of the recipes are difficult to adapt for one.

GeraniumCat said...

TT, me too, on fruit and meat. Less keen on fruit on its own, I prefer vegetables. One of the things I like about these books - and most of the books I'm likely to review here - is that you can use the recipes as guidelines, rather than prescriptions, making it much easier to adapt for one. Anything that has to be followed to the letter brings out the rebel in me, which could be why I ended up doing Latin at school rather than domestic science (though I think you can guess that I was pretty awful at Latin, therefore).