Me and my cookbooks - Diana Henry

We are back with another installment of the "Me and my cookbooks" series. Many EYB members have told us they enjoy meeting members and special guests through this feature. We'd love to introduce more people, so if you'd like to be featured, just email us at info@eatyourbooks.com.

Today we highlight author and cookbook collector Diana Henry. Diana is no stranger to EYB Members; her cookbooks can be found on hundreds of member Bookshelves. The EYB Member Forum also features a topic on cooking with Diana Henry recipes, so after exploring the 131 recipes by Diana Henry available online or while awaiting delivery of the new cookbook that this article may inspire you to buy, you can wade into that discussion.

Diana's latest book, A Change of Appetite, was published earlier this year in the U.K. and is now available in the U.S. In addition to her well-regarded cookbooks, Diana has been The Sunday Telegraph's food writer since the early 2000s and also contributes to various magazines. What follows are excerpts from a touching article that Diana posted on her website about her love of food writing and cookbooks.

Diana Henry's cookbooks

About seven years ago I got divorced. Of course the reasons given as the causes of a divorce are never the real ones. 'He never puts the lid on the toothpaste' isn't really about the toothpaste, or the lid, or even general untidiness. So cookbooks didn't exactly cause my divorce, but books - and in particular cookbooks - were a contributing factor simply because they are so important to me.
 
At one point my ex husband and I stood on the landing of our home, the shelves of which housed about 4000 books, most of them cookbooks. 'Really you have to get rid of some of them. There's just too many,' he said. I was amazed that somebody could ask me to do this. It was almost as if he'd said 'Get rid of your past.' Because to me these weren't just books. They were loved and used, but they were also, in a way, a map of my life. They reminded me of particular phases and they also chronicled the previous 30 years through food styles and food photography. There were, admittedly, a few that I rarely opened, such as Anton Mosimann's Cuisine  à la Carte, his hymn to nouvelle cuisine. But as soon as I look at those pictures, food graphically arranged on hexagonal plates, I am back in the London I arrived in during the mid 80s. There's a book called The China Moon Cookbook by Barbara Tropp that I don't use much any more. But that reminds me of all the Asian/Californian dishes I cooked in my early 30s. There was no way any of these books were going anywhere. It would have been like throwing out chunks of my life.

I was given my first cookbook when I was about 6. It was the My Learn to Cook Book by Ursula Sedgwick, published by Hamlyn. I'd hate to lose this because the illustrations give me the same frisson of excitement now as they did then.

It looks fun, it's colourful, but what I loved most were the illustrations for the instructions. I could see exactly what I had to do, and how my dishes were supposed to turn out. The tomatoes with eggs baked inside them seemed to me a genius idea, and the picture of the finished dish made me hungry. It was one of the first savoury meals I ever made.....

Cookbook coverThe most profound book-buying experience, though (and it was something that really did affect the course of my life) was in north London in the autumn of 1986. I had moved to London to do post graduate studies in journalism. Moving there overwhelmed me. There wasn't a food ingredient that I couldn't find and there was a restaurant, somewhere in the city, for practically every cuisine you could think of. One day after college I was mooching around the bookshop near my flat and found a book called A New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden. I had never heard of her, but the food sounded good. And the writing in it took me to the Middle East, a place - since coming to London with the Edgware Road and all the Middle Eastern groceries near my flat - that didn't feel so far away.

On a shelf nearby there was a book by a woman I had heard a little about - Alice Waters. Her book, The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, was actually marked down in price, but when I flicked through it I knew I would give almost anything to take it home with me.

It is difficult to explain now how very different Alice's approach was to anything that had gone before. It was so simple. It showed a Mediterranean spirit applied to American ingredients. The menus went like this:

Goat's cheese with baked garlic and sourdough
Bourride
Chargrilled pork with roast peppers and griddled leeks
Plum sherbet

There were other menus - some more elaborate, some celebrating the garlic harvest, or the new season's lamb. But all of them were about simplicity and purity and just valuing good food. The book and its menus actually sent a shiver down my spine. Nobody was cooking like this - we were in the middle of nouvelle cuisine - and it seemed so fresh. These two books - Roden's and Water's - are very different but they had a huge impact on me. I loved Claudia because her writing was so personal, because she put food into a cultural and historical context, because she painted vivid pictures and made me want to travel. I loved Alice, because her outlook was so fresh. It's a common chant nowadays, but 'simple and seasonal' was a new mantra when Alice started to voice it. I had no intention of being a food writer then but these books were constant companions both in my kitchen and on my bedside table. Claudia Roden has the power to transport any reader, as well as make them hungry.

Continue reading on Diana's website.

2 Comments

  • Foodycat  on  7/18/2014 at 3:50 AM

    One of my favourite food writers - Diana's books are so beautiful!

  • veronicafrance  on  7/20/2014 at 8:57 AM

    It's so interesting what she says about Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson in the full article. I do love Elizabeth David's writing (more her short articles than her books). But I've always thought that I'd be terrified to have her in the kitchen with me, whereas Jane Grigson would be a comforting, friendly presence who would laugh off any culinary faux pas.

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