Crazy Water Pickled Lemons
by Diana Henry
Octopus Publishing, London: 2002
Roast Figs Sugar Snow
by Diana Henry
Octopus Publishing, London: 2005
Every once in a while a cookbook comes along that changes your perspective on food and cooking. Diana Henry has produced two such books: Crazy Water Pickled Lemons and Roast Figs Sugar Snow. The theme that runs through both is a sensual appreciation of foods and flavors. The books group recipes in chapters dedicated to a common taste, a scent, a texture, a color rather than the usual menu progression from starter to dessert. Diana Henry’s beautiful prose at the beginning of each section paints such an evocative word picture (along with the stunning photographs) that you can almost smell, touch and taste the foods and flavors she describes.
Published several years apart, I treat these two books as companion volumes – one bright aromatic foods for the warm weather, the other cozy foods for the autumn and winter. Like a change in wardrobe, you know when the sandals are put away and sweaters come out of storage, it’s time to put Crazy Water Pickled Lemons squarely back on the shelf and take down the copy of Roast Figs Sugar Snow.
Summer, to me, is epitomised by the Mediterranean. The subtitle for Crazy Water Pickled Lemons is “Enchanting dishes from the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa”. Sections highlight the bright flavor of citrus, aromatic herbs and exotic spices, sweet honey and tart vinegar, ancient Eastern “fruits of longing” (see my post Ambrosia), creamy yoghurts and fresh cheeses, heady flowery flavors and scents, almonds and pine nuts, raisins and dried apricots, and crispy flatbreads from the hearth. I have many favorites – too many to list here. But, one I always come back to (bookmarked with a sticky fingerprint) is her recipe for moist, almond-enriched orange cake that uses every bit of an orange first by boiling it whole then puréeing. Easy and very delicious!
Roast Figs Sugar Snow with its subtitle “food to warm the soul” takes its inspiration from lands of forests and mountains, lands of winter and snow. Most of the recipes come from Northern and Eastern Europe, Russia and further afield from Canada and New England. In this book, Diana Henry focuses on earthy squashes, chestnuts and walnuts, wild game and mushrooms, the versatile pig, apples and pears, winter spices and sour cream, ripe cheeses, roots and sturdy greens, ripe purple fruit, gathered bounty from the hedgerow and bogs, and anything smoked. I love her recipes for pecan and pear upside down cake, pumpkin tarts with spinach and Gorgonzola, creamy Farmer’s carrots with bacon, roast pork with pickled prunes, Russian smoked fish pie, Dutch hot lightning, Swedish meatballs with cranberry sauce, etc., etc., etc.
I must admit it was the unusual titles that first attracted me – the string of intriguing words that at first glance didn’t make any sense, but made you want to page through the book to find out exactly what the author meant by Crazy Water or Sugar Snow. (Nor will I let on here if you don’t already know – spoilers, as they say in the movie business.) I’m glad I did open those book covers. Both of these books have changed the way I view ingredients and combine them in cooking.
Diana Henry has produced more cookbook gems which I eagerly snatch up as soon as they are published. No doubt they will feature in future blogs. Will keep you posted!