I read a lot of cookbooks. There are a couple of hundred on the shelves over there in the dining room, and I’m starting to get to the point where I don’t think many more will be, shall we say, welcome. I can tell a good cookbook from a bad one almost immediately … that combination of design, presentation and mood working together and hitting a certain note. Many fail, and scanning those shelves, I could, if I were less gentlemanly, pick out a couple of real howlers, but when the writer of a cookbook gets it right, it’s a joyous thing.
Cookbooks are still a vital resource. Searching the Internet for recipes doesn’t compare to picking books off a shelf and searching their pages, some falling open at well-used spots, their pages splattered with the remains of meals past. Each time a new cookbook lands in my kitchen, I secretly hope that it’ll turn into one of those books that becomes part of the fabric of the place.
Daylesford’s A Love for Food has that potential. It’s the sort of book that, when I picked it up and started flicking through the pages, I caught myself thinking “yeah, I’m cooking that … and that … and that” over and over again.
I was quite surprised by that, if I’m absolutely frank. This book had the feel of a marketing wheeze to support a wider business, something of an add-on to pad out a bigger enterprise. Daylesford is an organic farm in Gloucestershire that’s branched out, River Cottage-style, into bread, cheese production, meat and veg, with farm shops and cafes in trendy spots like Selfridges, Notting Hill and even Japan. You can buy Daylesford’s products online, from Ocado, naturally.
It seemed fairly obvious as I poked around the company that a cookbook would be a natural extension to the brand, and it clearly had the potential to be a lazy effort that resulted in complete rubbish, but that’s emphatically not the case. Daylesford have produced a book that articulates the core message of slowness and sustainability that’s at the heart of their business, and they’ve articulated it in a clear and accessible way, supported by a clutch of first-rate and enticing recipes.
The book itself is a hefty volume, with a simple feel. The font on the cover is plain, and bold, the colours calm and muted. This is a book that has a sense of purpose. That purpose is one of sustainability and slowness, something I’ve written about at length before.
‘Slow’ is more than simply doing things with less speed … it’s about understanding the provenance and meaning of things, of taking the time to make the best of the simple things in life. In Slow terms, the way in which food is sourced, prepared and valued is important, and this philosophy is central to Daylesford’s book, so much so that Carlo Petrini, the influential founder of the Slow movement was a central influence and mentor for Carole Bamford as she went through the process of establishing Daylesford farm. Petrini’s hand is evident in Daylesford’s approach, and clear in the writing and recipes in A Love for Food, with its focus on simplicity and seasonality.
A Love for Food is written by a collection of Daylesford’s experts in various fields such as cheese, livestock, bread and vegetable gardening. It has many voices, but all centre around that position of slowness and sustainability. The book is punctuated by often extended essays on baking, on rearing meat, on vegetables. There are further notes throughout, important and vital tips on getting the best out of an ingredient or recipe, and it’s these added extras that set this book apart. There’s a clear sense of experience in these pages, of mistakes that have already been made on your behalf.
The type of food here ranges from simple things to graze on, pushing that idea of seasonality and simplicity with the first few recipes representing a variety of bruschetta and other things that are essentially food on toast, through salads, pies, fish, meat, puddings, bread and baking. There’s a distinct Italian feel to much of the food, but using British ingredients and influences, so you end with beautiful tarts made with three different type of tomato next to a pie that uses the best of British game – pheasant, rabbit, duck – under a traditional pastry crust. This collection shows the breadth of experience and influence that its writers bring, and it’s absorbing and interesting because of that.
It’s the kind of food I want to cook.