Lockdown Libraries: Cooking for Comfort by Joanna Preston
What has become abundantly clear in lockdown is how much time we are spending in our kitchens cooking. It’s no great surprise; deprived overnight of cafes, bars and restaurants, our homes have had no choice but to morph into spaces for sharing food and company. The kitchen in our farmhouse has always been the real hearth and heart of our home, but never more so than in the last 8 weeks. It is the focal and defining point of our days, with breakfast, lunch and dinner now used to mark the hours and months that pass.
Back in the hazy, early days of the Easter holidays my children and I would spend hours seeking out new recipes, planning menus, talking food and cooking. We seeded and planted and 5 weeks on from those sun-soaked April afternoons we are beginning to reap the benefits. However, time was on our side back then whereas now, what with navigating home schooling and other such joys, there are a few more obstacles. Coming together and eating still holds the same importance for us, and if there is one thing I am totally unprepared to compromise in my day, it is food, and the preparation of it. It’s a ritual to me, my daily yoga workout. So although I am somewhat more time poor, being headmistress and PA to my offspring, cooking is still a priority.
Being a food lover, I have a very extensive and diverse library of cookbooks dating back over 30 years. One of the benefits of those early days of lockdown was that I suddenly had time to indulge in reading them again. Since March I have been able to rifle through the farmhouse, pulling out piles of cookbooks which I greedily inhale, flipping through the pages, turning over corners, reminding myself what I want to come back to and try. I’m not a fancy cook, and I’ve never bought into foams and frills but I do love variety and diversity.
During the lockdown, I have revisited books I haven’t opened in years. There are some that have become such firm favourites that the pages are almost stuck together. Some have remained hidden outside in a barn somewhat forgotten, slowly they’ve migrated back into the kitchen which my husband views with increasing horror. Yesterday, he tactfully reminded me it that wasn’t a library, I beg to differ.
April was discovery month. Sourdough became our baby. Pasta became our second project, and ravioli our showpiece. Cakes, traybakes, and ice-creams abounded in their sticky deliciousness. Cookery books are my creed. May has been more about foraging and I’ve found that hunting for natural edible ‘treasures’ is a fool proof way of enticing little people on a walk. The hedgerows have been heaving with wild food, the ultimate in organic and seasonal, not to mention educational. We’ve eaten everything from nettles to dandelion, elderflower to Jack by the Hedge, and I’ve had my two wingmen in tow, sifting through the undergrowth, picking, harvesting, foraging and learning!
We’ve even had theme evenings for the children, and attempted to eat our way merrily around the world. We exposed them to the most extraordinary food, reindeer from Finland, rice paper rolls from Vietnam, sushi from Japan, fajitas from Mexico. It has been a constant source of entertainment, particularly when we hit Italy and decided to go through the regions! One may question where such produce can materialise when the country has been under lockdown, alas the freezer has proved to be a bit of an Alladin’s Cave, that after all is where the fillet of reindeer was unearthed.
The books I turn to time and time again, the ones with the inspiration, the pictures and the sensible recipes are the ones I readily recommend to friends, family and clients. I’m never disappointed by Diana Henry, and eagerly reach for her books, particularly “A Change of Appetite”, “Simple” and “A Bird in the Hand.” Its common sense cooking, but not in a boring way, nothing is overly complicated, but everything is delicious and she’s completely approachable. Skye Gyngell is also a firm friend, I adore her first and second books, “A Year in my Kitchen” and “My Favourite Ingredients.” The former really working with the seasons through the year, which we are so much more in touch with now.
Peter Gordon is my ‘go-to’ for something different, “The Sugar Club” is simply awesome, and his recent book on salads, “Savour” is quirky, alternative and very unlike anything on my bookshelf. “Exploring Taste and Flavour” by Tom Kime is a gem of a book for anyone looking for Asian inspiration and as for Italian, where to start? “Bocca” by Jacob Kennedy is a bible of delicious morsels, “Polpo” is divinely bound and has some mouth-watering ideas, and anything written from the ‘River Café’ is my definition of perfection. As for the sweet stuff, “Artisan Ice Cream” by Van Leeuwen never fails and “Homemade Memories” by Kate Doran is a treasure trove for naughty things for the little people.
And how indeed do I store and keep this ever-growing library, for to part with a cookery book is most alien to me? I’ve tried colour coding but though pretty, I’ve found it deeply impractical. I have two shelves in my kitchen with my most used, most loved books and an additional dresser heaving under the weight of everything else.
In practically every room, I’ll find another little quarry of books, I’m like a squirrel hiding her nuts. But there’s a logical comfort in that as well, everywhere I turn I find something I want to read. So in spite of these strange and alien times cooking and reading has been my solace. It is indulgent and I do love it and it’s been incredibly gratifying. Food and cookery books have bound my family together through this period and I am eternally grateful for their endless magic.
Ultimate Library would like to say a huge thank you to Joanna for contributing her blog for us this month. To find more of her delicious recipes and food inspiration please visit her website, or follow her on Instagram @lardersaga