There are some things that you never even think that you will get the chance to do, so when they happen, you spend a bit of time thinking “Is this really me, here?”
Turns out yes, it really was me, sitting in a large, airy room with Thane Prince, surrounded by food, with a whole host of people, chatting happily about their love of cookbooks, food history, sharing food related experiences and much more.
I used to watch Thane on Ready Steady Cook, and remember thinking she was a dose of much needed sanity on that rather muddled show. I was always happy if it was Thane or Valentina Harris as the guest chef/cook.
Thane started the cookbook club because she needed people to share with, people that didn’t think it was weird to be thinking about dinner as you were eating lunch, or thinking about what to have for breakfast and lunch as you were making dinner. That’s what I do, that’s what many of my friends do, but I do realise that others may find it completely boring and a bit of a strange obsession. Well, it’s the only one I’ve got, and I’m sticking with it.
Some of us are complete amateurs with a passion for food as a hobby, some read cookbooks like they were novels (me! me!), some make their living from cooking, talking and writing about food. All of us certainly have a hunger for tastes and textures and all things food based. To be able to share this with others, and to be able to take photographs of food without anyone thinking you were a crazy lady, was liberating.
The venue was the upstairs room of a gem of a pub, The Draper’s Arms in Barnsbury Street, off Upper Street in Islington. If you can, go. A fabulous pub, with an excellent menu, and a very kind proprietor, Nick, who put up with us all and made us feel very welcome. Thank you for looking after us Nick and staff!
One by one we trickled in, bearing boxes of goodies. More and more goodies arrived until we had two tables groaning under the weight of dishes. Perfectly spiced samosas with nicely puffy pastry, delicately flavoured red wine and fennel biscotti, softly pillowed herbed breads with home made dukkah, moreish macarons with liquorice and chocolate, cardamom truffles that literally melted in your fingers, savoury and addictive Spanish comfort food pasta with tender meat and vegetables, sweet nut brittle laced with cardamom, sweet carrot and cardamom scented jellies, cumin-heavy spiced nuts…the list just went on and on. The pub also presented us with perfect Scotch Eggs. None of that over-runny yolk nonsense, thank you very much.
I do think I need a list of who cooked what, just so that I can say thank you to all of them for making such an effort. Please feel free to claim which dish was yours, and name it here!
There was a wine kitty, so we all put in for that. By the table with the kitty jar was another table with cookbooks that people had brought along to discuss. Well, except me, because I forgot to bring mine in the Get Out of The Door and Go To Work phase of the morning.
There were quite a few Madhur Jaffrey books, unsurprisingly, because I know that when I think of spice that is who comes to mind (closely followed by Claudia Roden) and she does have over 15 cookbooks to her name, plus numerous television shows – but there were others too. One book had the most amazing photos of spices in, including one of beautiful nutmeg, which I have never seen in its original state. That has set me on a quest to find Nutmeg Jam, because I am intrigued as to how it would taste. (It uses the pericarp, the fleshy outer covering, not the seed. I think that might be a bit overpowering!) There are many, many Caribbean grocers in London, and I am sure that I will be able to find it.
Talking of tasting, Xanthe Clay (after rearranging our cookbooks into alphabetical order) brought out two types of houmous for us to taste test. Those of you who watch Simon Hopkinson will know that he touts the ‘peel your chickpeas’ way of making that ubiquitous Middle Eastern dip. I am an advocate of the ‘life is too short to peel a chickpea’ way of cooking. All of us tried both, and were asked to judge simply on which we preferred. We had toasted flatbread to scoop it up, and also some of Lynne’s gorgeous semolina rolls.
What can I say? My dear, darling, beloved Hoppy, I am afraid that naked chickpeas lost out to the clothed by majority vote. Sorry. I still love you and your pink duffle coat anyway.
Literally the only downside was that the acoustics in the room are not ideal for lots of talking (high ceilings, bare walls and floor) so that all the sounds sort of crashed in on each other, making it quite difficult at times to discern what everybody was saying. Avid talked all, you see. I’m not sure what we do about that, but I’m sure someone will think of something! Installing a tented ceiling or acoustic diffusers for each book club gathering would be a little extreme I feel. And yes, I may have worked in acoustics for too long. *ahem*
All in all, it was a glorious evening full of like-minded folks who loved love to share their knowledge and their food, and I am very much looking forward to the next one that I can attend.
NEXT COOKBOOK CLUB: September 4th, 7pm, The Draper’s Arms.
£10 to put in for the wine kitty if you drink.