I read a lot of recipe books in this job, but it is rare that I want to devour one in the way I do with How To Eat a Peach, from award-winning cookery writer Diana Henry. While the recipes are accessible and, more importantly, delicious, it is the narrative that introduces each collection of 25 menus which provides me with great joy, as they are all about the love, sense of place and companionship that surrounds the preparation and enjoyment of a good meal.
The book took me back to the writings of Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson, who inspired domestic cooks and professional chefs alike in the austere post-war years. Henry’s words can transport you to another country or an occasion that has made an indelible mark upon her life, and will hopefully have the same kind of resonance with chefs of all ages.
Its premise stems from a book of menus Henry kept from the age of 16 in her native Northern Ireland. Today, she says, composing a menu is still her favourite bit of cooking.
Some menus highlight local dishes, such as the one subtitled “Falling in love with France” – kir Breton, leeks with Breton vinaigrette, mouclade and crêpes dentelles with sautéd apples – which reflects visits to Normandy and Brittany.
Other menus are simply events in themselves, such as the eating of whole crabs with potatoes and homemade mayonnaise, inspired by Provençal feasts of poached salt cod and garlic mayo. Henry prefaces the dish with rye bread, radish butter and salmon caviar, and follows it with strawberry and buttermilk ice-cream for the perfect summer lunch.
Henry explains the intriguing title: “At a restaurant in Italy, the diners at the next table didn’t have a fancy dessert, they just had a bowl of peaches and a bottle of cold Moscato. Everyone sliced their peach and dropped it into the wine. After a while they drank the wine – now imbued with the flavour of the peach – and ate the peach slices, which now tasted of the wine.”
Such sublime, evocative writing makes How To Eat a Peach a true gem; it is a book I suspect will be regarded as a classic in the years to come.
How To Eat a Peach by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley, £25)