“Salt Sugar Smoke” by Diana Henry

“High tea, a very British kind of meal, was what I used to have at my great grandmother’s house on a Sunday. It consisted of cold cuts, a white loaf of bread, tomatoes, a big, cool pat of butter, hard-boiled eggs, soft-leafed lettuce and a whole assortment of jars. Every jar had its own spoon and there was a special pickle fork, too. The British love their jars of pickles and chutneys. The basics of a meal – the meat or pie – may be solid and seemingly unexciting, but we are very good at “tracklements”, the bits that are served on the side. The contents of these jars are also an illustration of our history, and our magpie tendencies to steal what we have fallen in love with from other cultures.”

An avid book cookbook collector and reader {she owns 4000 food and drink related books}, Diana Henry is a scholar and a perfectionist as well as being a mother and a cook. News that her new book “Salt Sugar Smoke” was soon to be published by Mitchell Beazley {an imprint of Octopus Books} sent tremors of excitement through social media. A loyal entourage of food bloggers and fans united in extolling her virtues and small wonder: she is the Hannah Glasse of our generation.

Diana Henry is one of Britain’s favourite professional food writers, searching for, testing, eating, re-testing and writing about the sorts of dishes that we all want to eat. Simple, easy, frugal and joyful, her recipes on Stella Magazine, which accompanies The Sunday Telegraph, are torn out, hole-punched and filed. They work and they please.

Her latest offering is no exception: centred around the theme of preserving everything from vegetables to meat, fish, fruits, flowers and herbs we are taken on an exciting and colourful journey round the world of potted fish, jams, charcuterie, pickled vegetables, cordials, sauces, jellies, curds, chutneys, relishes and fruit cheeses.

This is the food of the recessionary era: gathering, foraging, preserving, saving and storing. Many cookery writers have written books about pickling, potting and preserving but very few can channel the sort of beauty and eclectic, international, magpie-thievery that Diana has mustered in this book. Be prepared for palate travel.

From Swedish “nearly” jam to Georgian plum sauce, Japanese pickled mackerel, Turkish pepper paste, Mexican Adobo, New York Cranberry mustard, Malaysian cucumber and carrot pickle, Yemen zhoug, Greek spoon sweets and Gdansk vodka, there is no corner of the globe that the author has not considered for her kaleidoscopic perusal of what the world’s housewives, farmers, cooks and artisans use and do to prolong the life of spring and summer’s bounty.

Between the recipes, Diana has included essays that explain how salt, sugar and smoke work, hints and tips on what equipment to buy, how to get the best results and how to troubleshoot the problems. There are also recollections of her own travels throughout the world, seeking out those cultures and regions of the world where preserving is embedded in the genealogy of a race.

“In Vermont I watched people boil apple juice to make cider syrup to bottle and “put up”, seen notices for church suppers with a menu of baked ham, baked potatoes and pickled pumpkin and attended “sugar on snow” parties to celebrate the maple syrup season, where the sweetness of the syrup was cut with bites of sour pickles. Make no mistake, American preserving isn’t a folksy romantic notion: it is alive and well and increasing in popularity.”

The author set out to serve an “indenture period” to fine tune the art and craft of preserving:

“Salt Sugar Smoke is the result of a rigorous exploration and a long journey. For three years I preserved food every day, often all day long and well into the evening. My laundry room filled up with jars. The refrigerator became home to big slabs of bacon and chunks of beef in brine.”

The result of those endeavours is an interesting and unusual array of recipes, many of which cannot be found elsewhere. Of particular note for my “to do list” are: rhubarb, rose and cardamom jam; sweet fig vinegar; beetroot-cured gravlax; crunchy Russian dill pickles; Middle Eastern pickled aubergines; Camilla’s roast plum and liquorice chutney and Ozark’s pecan conserve.

Beyond the research and detail there is also the beauty of the book: photographer Laura Edwards and designer Miranda Harvey have encapsulated the look, feel and heart of the seasons, the ingredients and the mood. Diana’s cut glassware, embroidered tablecloths, scrunched linens, daintily decorated plates and hand painted bowls are charming and evocative of Mediterranean and Scandinavian country kitchens and sunny holidays abroad in climates both hot and cold.

There are pages at the back of the book that detail how long preserves should be stored and in which conditions and where to source equipment and ingredients. Because the book is aimed at home cooks, it is not assumed that the reader will have anothing more than essential equipment and utensils within their reach. Unlike much of the literature out there you are not made to feel as if you need to buy a separate garden shed to create a home smoker {you can use a wok and wood shavings}, nor do you need a degree in food technology to ensure your curing is safe and hygienic {just simple, old-fashioned common sense, cleanliness and caution}.

This book would make a much appreciated gift – any cook of any level of skill would be able to find something tempting, tantalising and achievable between these pages. What a delightful way to move into autumn and winter.

Diana Henry will be speaking at a lecture-lunch hosted by Thyme At Southrop Manor on 5th October 2012, if you would like to come along the details are here.

Further Information

Octopus Books: www.octopusbooks.co.uk

Follow on Twitter: @Octopus_Books

Similar Posts