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This piece on strawberries, from her Fruit Book , is one of the first I read:. If there is a single flavor whose presence gives shape to the eating of all the Mediterranean, it is theirs. Marcella is very clear. I was given my first cookbook when I was about 6. The most profound book-buying experience, though and it was something that really did effect the course of my life was in north London in the autumn of I had moved to London to do post graduate studies in journalism. That vivid image of delight, of fruit and snow against forest darkness, is never forgotten. People sometimes ask me what good food writing is. Paula also immersed herself in food cultures. I can be sated by a brash barbecue and left still wanting something gentler and cooler. If I asked Jane Grigson, on the other hand, we could just have a banana sandwich, and she would see the merit in that, as long as it was a well-made sandwich. I loved Claudia because her writing was so personal, because she put food into a cultural and historical context, because she painted vivid pictures and made me want to travel. I realise now that I was, in cookbooks, looking for something more than instruction. But it begs the cook for finesse. The only reason I bought one was that Paul Bennett seemed so sad looking at his undiminished supply……. We tried to cheer, but our mouths were full so instead we chewed while the crickets screamed and WCOL played. I was developing a liking for American writers and this really blossomed and deepened when I went on honeymoon. The tomatoes with eggs baked inside them seemed to me a genius idea, and the picture of the finished dish made me hungry. Her book, Plenty , is peppered with recipes but really it is a book about life — everything is covered in it; there are digressions on tofu, architecture, music, restaurant design and birds nests. It was one of the first savoury meals I ever made. She is one of my food heroines. Moving there overwhelmed me. Nothing would be right for her. I loved Alice, because her outlook was so fresh. They were loved and used, but they were also, in a way, a map of my life. Nobody was cooking like this — we were in the middle of nouvelle cuisine — and it seemed so fresh. It is why, give or take an Alan Davidson or two, the best is to be found sheltering by accident in works about other things altogether. On a shelf nearby there was a book by a woman I had heard a little about — Alice Waters. Street markets reek of their acescent aroma, brine-soaked tubs proclaim their gaudy multitude: In Provence alone, there are dozens of varieties and hundreds of cures, touching every note in a register of bitter, pungent complexity. Paula Wolfert sounded like a greedy anthropologist, Claudia like someone yearning for home, Marcella like a no nonsense but helpful and supremely capable Italian lady who would show you better than anyone else how to make pasta or risotto or ciabatta. I had never heard of her, but the food sounded good. The menus went like this:. And it was personal. She understands the seasons, texture, smells, mood and light. But all of them were about simplicity and purity and just valuing good food. They ask for advice about how they should start. Over the years I have bought everything Jane Grigson wrote. After receiving this book I asked for cookbooks as presents and still have a small collection of books on making sweets and snacks, all aimed at children. How can we understand this appetite? She has always seemed to me rather acid, rather snobbish. The first thing I ever cooked from the Hamlyn book was lamb chops with ratatouille. Actually producing dishes was a big thrill, and still is. I completely fell in love with her. When we finally ate it, each spoonful hinted of a world beyond the obvious, something underneath the surface, under water, beyond our shores. I could see exactly what I had to do, and how my dishes were supposed to turn out. But as well as this a food writer needs to be able to pin down particulars. And why food means so much to us. They reminded me of particular phases and they also chronicled the previous 30 years through food styles and food photography. I first cooked eggplant the night that Richard M. Meringue swans and ponds of aspic protecting pictures made out of bits of red pepper and angelica were never going to be on the menu, but they fascinated me nonetheless. All these writers brought different things. It contained aubergines, something we had never heard of in Northern Ireland in the s. She is writing here about aubergines:. Of course the reasons given as the causes of a divorce are never the real ones. I was amazed that somebody could ask me to do this. There was no way any of these books were going anywhere. The book and its menus actually sent a shiver down my spine. I had no intention of being a food writer then but these books were constant companions both in my kitchen and on my bedside table. I bought everything she had written, her book of Mediterranean food, her book on Italian food, and then I started on the American writer Paula Wolfert. Food is part of her life and she tells you how it fits into it. It was Eggs by Cedric Morris and its plainness was perfect. Claudia Roden has the power to transport any reader, as well as make them hungry. At 13 this really was a premature purchase, but I loved it. The first book I bought by her was about Moroccan food. Her book, The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook , was actually marked down in price, but when I flicked through it I knew I would give almost anything to take it home with me. That they had recipes that worked was the most important thing to me.
About seven years ago I got divorced. And that summer we were more definite than usual. After that it was Marcella Hazan, the goddess of all things Italian. I read it from cover to cover. It is about time and place and memory and the imagination. The local green grocer ordered these purple coloured slippers for me specially.
John Thorne lives in Vermont and publishes a thin periodical every so often called Simple Cooking. I was looking for people who loved food as much as I did. Delicately engraved and inlaid silver trays carried small crystal or silver bowls filled with the shiny jams: After discovering Claudia I looked for cookbooks by people who really knew particular cultures very well.
At one point my ex husband and I stood on the landing of our home, the shelves of which housed about books, most of them cookbooks. I think she is unsurpassed and have treasured her book, A Well-Seasoned Appetite , for the last 20 years. Good writers who are, inadvertently, wonderful on food are Katherine Mansfield and Sybille Bedford.
Molly has produced cookbooks only sporadically and no longer writes for The New York Times. Dog-day hunger is a complicated thing. And even then, we prefer them at their most suave — nicoise, Kalamata, Ponentine — sleek miniatures of what is in truth a coarse and gargantuan hunger. It would have been like throwing out chunks of my life. And how, as she sweeps the snow aside with their broom, she finds there — strawberries? An excellent writer herself, the Australian restaurateur Gay Bilson has been very specific if a little harsh on what she thinks makes good food writing. Here she is writing about the summer appetite:. But as soon as I look at those pictures, food graphically arranged on hexagonal plates, I am back in the London I arrived in during the mid 80s. The trip was spent in the States, and meticulously planned by me. A bunch of us were grilling steaks over a hardwood fire in the backyard when WCOL interrupted its programming with the news bulletin. And yet, in the sudden snow of winter a couple of years ago, I went to sweep our doorway — and found strawberries. Candied orange peel, quince paste, coconut, fig, date, rose, tangerine and strawberry jams would be brought in as soon as we arrived, together with pyramids of little pastries, and accompanied by the tinkling of tiny silver spoons, trembling on their stands like drops on a chandelier. It was so simple. Food is never — for any of us — just something to eat. I discovered more great writers while I was there and had to buy an extra suitcase to carry my new books home. He also writes — often — about the most ordinary things and helps you to see them differently. I particularly love her on her life at home in Egypt. Cookbooks were manuals, but manuals from which you could go places. It showed a Mediterranean spirit applied to American ingredients.