There’s no point at all in beating about the bush here. I’ll show my cards right from the start.
Canteen: Great British Food book struck me immediately as one of those cookbooks that’s going to see some heavy use in my kitchen. It will soon be battered and splattered, spilled over and greasy, such is the fate of all my favourite cookbooks.
Canteen: Great British Food is about proper British food, the dishes that form our culinary history. The cover resembles a wartime ration book, a clue to the contents. The title is blunt and no-nonsense.
You know you’re going to get classic, well-prepared, nostalgic recipes.
Steak and kidney pie, made the proper way with Guinness. Scotch eggs. Fish cakes with mushy peas. Chargrilled pork chops, with sage. Roast duck legs. Chocolate brownies.
There’s a quiet and unfussy simplicity to Great British Food, and it’s a clever philosophy. These are recipes with echoes, recipes loaded with meaning that reverberate through people’s lives. Beef stew with dumplings takes me straight back to lunchtime on a Saturday in my Grandma’s kitchen, watching her make dumpling mix in the bowl from a Kenwood Chef. Even the photo looks like my Grandma’s dish. Here is evocative food.
This approach isn’t without risk. A cookbook full of dishes widely regarded as ‘British classics’ is likely to raise hackles in some quarters. With a ‘classic’ dish, everybody has a different idea about how that dish should be cooked, and a different idea about why their version, and nobody else’s, is the best. Meddling with the classics is fraught with danger, but Great British Food addresses this risk as it should be addressed – head on – with an unapologetic and unpretentious canter through some of Britain’s best food. These are above everything else, good, solid recipes.
That’s not to say that Canteen: Great British Food isn’t stylish, because it is. There are flourishes of real class here, not least of all in the witty and unusual photography – intelligent and original styling, with the odd small woodland creature for good measure. Trust me, it works.
There’s a difference between ‘nostalgic’ and ‘old-fashioned’ and it’s a line that Great British Food treads carefully. There’s a modern edge to many of the recipes, a respectful updating of methods and ingredients. It keeps the food relevant, but maintains it’s lineage.
The real achievement here is in taking food that we all love and breathing new life and vitality into it.
Canteen: Great British Fooddeserves a place in every British kitchen.
Canteen: Great British Food is published by Ebury Press at £16.99, hardback.