Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cookbooks and Cocktails: A Sunday afternoons reading


Looking back over past posts regarding cookbooks I've discovered that I tend to be in two very distinct frames of mind when writing. The first leans towards a drooling admiration with the pages of the book sodden with praise, the drift tending towards the notion that cookbooks are some of the most valuable texts we produce as a culture. The second veers sharply away from all this into screaming and violent hatred of anyone or anything involved in the creation of such vomitous bile, safe in the knowledge that when the revolution arrives those responsible with be the first put into the Wicker Man for burning. You'll notice that I get so angry my pop culture references get all muddled up.

Walking into the cookery sections of bookshops can be something of a dangerous pastime for me. Happily, over the last couple of weeks I've managed something of a lucky run in the book buying stakes. 

First up, a collection of Kingsley Amis's booze journalism from the late 1970's and early '80's called Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis. Amis was a prodigious drinker, toper, drinkist and boozer. Reading this anthology of his drink newspaper column and booze based writing felt  timely with present day wine columns being dropped left, right and centre by newspapers. It's safe to say Amis didn't actually write wine journalism, as he seems far more comfortable writing about, and drinking, spirits and beer. He does tackle wine with gusto and I'm pretty sure his knowledge was encyclopaedic for the time, it's that just that he seems far more enthusiastic about cocktails and spirits and makes a fundamental point about beer that should resonated deeply with anyone who enjoys British cooking. His point is a simple one, really. That traditional British cooking only really makes sense if you are drinking beer, or watered down Scotch, wine simply doesn't work with the cooking style and condiments of the British table as they were then. He's very much of his time and you find yourself conflicted by the wit and charm of the man when he's showing his age. The sheer amount people used to drink is actually shocking to the modern ear. Kingsley thinks nothing of recommending a mixture of Special Brew and Export in a silver pint pot as a jovial little tipple or recommending cocktails to see you through a difficult morning. The sections on hangovers are classics and you'll read no finer collection of Martini recipes.

Secondly, a book that was an utter bitch to find and cost me no small fortune, but which is again timely and necessary. The London heats of the UK Barista Championships were taking place this weekend and local SE Londoner Neil Le Bihan, who I chatted to after his UK Latte art win a couple of weeks ago took the spoils. Anyone wanting to follow in his footsteps will want a copy of The Professional Barista's Handbook by Scott Rao.  It's technical, it's scientific, it's detailed and it'll either make you want to drop everything and buy a £10K espresso machine or simply throw the book over your shoulder and make some instant. The only place I could find this was at the excellent Coffee Hit website.

Thirdly, two actual real life cookbooks. Both of these fall into the bracket of documentary cookbooks, in that, certainly from my perspective, you are unlikely ever to cook anything from them, but serve as a mine of cheerful quite useful information and are lovely items to hold and leaf through. There are indicative of that trend to merge travel writing and food writing, which can be something of a trick to pull off and I think that Movida: Rustica by Frank Camorra & Richard Cornish, which covers Spanish regional cooking and The Songs of Sapa by Luke Nguyen, covering Vietnam do so well. They are loving documents really, nicely written, evocative photography and beautifully designed books. I've not cooked anything from them, so can't vouch for the recipes (which you would imagine would be key to a review about a cook book, ho-hum). Have a pleasant fifteen minutes next time you are in Waterstones and leaf through them both.