Diana Henry is a
highly-respected food writer and cookbook author. Her 7th cookbook,
A Change of
Appetite has just been published in the UK and will be
published in the USA in June. Wanting to eat more "healthy"
food Diana set out to explore exactly what that means, and made
sure the food was also delicious. She wrote an excellent post
on her blog about the process involved in creating the cookbook.
With her kind permission, we are excerpting it here. Go
to Diana's blog for the full article - it
really should be read by everyone who loves cookbooks.
To win one of 3 copies of the book, enter our contest.
What goes on behind the scenes of a
Books don't come out of nowhere. I have never thought, 'Oh, time
for another one, what should I write about next?' They always grow
out of something in my life.
Food from Plenty came out of
a particular time. I started writing it pre-credit crunch, but a
feeling that we had to tighten belts (and value our food more) was
already in the air. Salt, Sugar, Smoke was the
result of an obsessive interest in preserving, a personal desire to
be able to do it better and to understand the science of it. And it
allowed me to try out ideas for jam and jelly recipes I'd had in my
head for a long time. Crazy Water, Pickled
Lemons, my first book, was the result of years
(including many when I wasn't a food writer) of collecting recipes
from areas of the world - the Middle East, North Africa - that had
fascinated me since childhood. It was meant to convey the magic of
ingredients and dishes that were, to me, rather
Simple was the fruit of a new attitude towards
cooking I developed - of necessity - when I had my first child.
There's a lot of bunging things in the oven. It isn't quick
cooking, but it is effortless cooking.
book, A Change of Appetite, came
about for several reasons. First I noticed that both friends and
readers were asking me what they could do to eat more 'healthily'.
They wanted to increase their intake of vegetables. They needed
ideas for what to do with plain bits of protein, a tuna steak or a
turkey breast, as they were rapidly running out of inspiration.
Since their daily diets sounded at best puritan and at worst grim,
I felt I had to come to the rescue. Then my doctor, alarmed at my
blood pressure, told me to lose weight and I didn't want to revert
to yo-yo dieting. Finally my father, completely out of the blue,
was diagnosed with cancer. After years of rolling my eyes when
anyone mentioned 'healthy eating', I decided to find out what,
exactly, the term meant.
It sounds a bit pretentious to say that books develop
organically, but they do. First you get the kernel of an idea, then
you start to talk about it to friends and family. Are they
interested in the same area? Do they need information on it? Would
it excite them? You approach the whole thing as if you were making
a scrapbook (I used to do lots of projects in scrapbooks as a child
and this really isn't much different). You start to read.
With A Change of Appetite I
started first with food journalist Hattie Ellis' book What to
Eat? Then I got stuck into The New York
Times columnist Mark
Bittman's book Food
Matters. By the time I'd finished these two I was
hooked on the subject. With this book in particular, the research
stretched ahead almost limitlessly, but you eventually have to call
time on it.
... As well as background research
and recipe ideas the most nebulous and exciting part of a book is
bubbling away, as if it's almost underground, the whole time. It's
the feel you want the book to have. This is the hardest
thing to articulate. And it's difficult to pin down as it doesn't
yet exist. I often think it's like grappling with a fish. You can
see it and it's sparkling and alive and gasping for air but you
can't quite get hold of it. Every so often you have to make
yourself stop the research and just look at pictures, searching for
those that express moods or a certain feel. I go through magazines,
search the internet, go to films and exhibitions that have
absolutely nothing to do with food. I pull out lots of bits of
reference - even bits of paper with a certain texture - and
gradually put these all together.
... The recipe testing is in many ways the most
straightforward part of a cookbook. You just get on and cook. I
always intend to do this neatly, keeping notes in a big book. In
reality I am always grabbing used envelopes and bits of scrap
paper. People ask how the testing is done and the answer is very
boring, I literally stand there and measure everything as it's used
and scribble it down. If I'm being sensible I transfer it
immediately to the laptop once I'm done. I never write down the
recipe method, I'll remember it, but I need to note down each
spoonful and every gram. Sometimes I get distracted or the doorbell
rings and I can't remember whether I used 2 tbsp or 3 tbsp of
something. That means that it has to be done again. More than once
I have looked into the bin when I was testing at 2am to see how
many eggs I have used by counting the shells. And don't even get me
on to the washing up. That is easily the worst part of my
... What's the best thing about producing these
books? Apart from having a book at the end of it all, something you
can actually hold and read and cook from, it's the creativity that
you share with other people. And it's the joy that comes from
making something with people who are perfectionist. I am amazed by
how much people care about their work and by how talented they are.
It really moves me. When I worked in television everyone's name was
on the credits. The producer's is usually last but every single
person gets a mention. It never seems fair that only the name of
the author is on the front of a book. A book is never just written.
It is made.
For the full article, go to dianahenry.co.uk.