Diana Henry is an accomplished food writer, and Salt Sugar Smoke does justice to her evident skill and passion. It’s a book you will intend to just dip into but you will likely find, as I have done, that it’s a culinary page-turner of inspiration and striking photography.
This book is pertinent to the times. We want to make the best of produce when it’s cheap (more realistically, a little less expensive) and especially when there is a glut of fresh fruit or vegetables from the garden. Growing your own is always best value, but find a good greengrocer and buy a whole box of veggies and you could have a bargain on your hands. But you’ll need to do something with that seasonal bounty.
We have a siege mentality chez nous when it comes to food – it’s a family trait. There is a strangely addictive element to the process of preserving. I am never happier than when the shelves are full, and particularly with jars sporting my marvellously well-designed home-made labels advertising the sweet or tangy treats inside. Condiments can make the simplest of savoury foods into an exotic feast and there is a hint of smug contentment at the breakfast table when guests ask for more toast for more jam. All that fruit-preserving sounds very noble but then there is that other section to the book, which is less W.I. and more Woo Hoo!, offering recipes for making those slowly-maturing bottles of alcohol hidden at the back of the larder.
Diana Henry has penned a beautiful and practical book that will enable you to fill jars and bottles with foods and drinks that are good enough to share as gifts for family and friends, but are in fact so good that you might not want to. Diana offers recipes for some traditional goods, but lots of her preserves are contemporary and international – something for every taste.
The recipes for cured fish are noteworthy. Pickled Lox are pickled salmon fillets and were a mainstay of Jewish homes in old New York. Diana offers a serving suggestion of these fish with waxy boiled potatoes, but the regular snack for those in the Big Apple was lox partnered with a bagel.
My favourite recipe from the fishy fare is Beetroot-cured Gravlax. It looks spectacular as a centrepiece for any buffet but especially at Christmas, as the colour is so vibrant and festive. This recipe would feed more than a dozen people but it could be reduced if you don’t have that many friends! It’s a handy dish for entertaining as all the work is done well in advance, although I would counsel spending a few moments sharpening your best knife just before your guests arrive: the slices of Gravlax need to be thin and regular.
Scarlet Pepper and Chilli Jam is similar to a condiment I first tried about 20 years ago on a friend’s farm in California. It’s that sweet and hot combination that is mouth-watering. This is a wonderful recipe for those few summer weeks when red peppers are at a reasonable price. Find a chilli that works best for your taste – there are so many around and they vary in potency. This jam also works using green chillies, which will give the jars a bejewelled shine.
The drinks chapter has a host of Vodka-based recipes and there are a couple that I’ll be making right away. Krupnik is delicious and a spirit that I first tried years ago at Baltic restaurant in London, which had a display of gallon demi-johns filled with flavoured vodka, and it would have been rude not to try. Krupnik is sweet, comforting and moreish.
Another one to make for Christmas is Gdansk Vodka. This has complex and rich flavours that would be warming on a winter’s night. It’s said to be best after four years but I would think it would only last that long if you had forgotten where you put it.
Salt Sugar Smoke – How to preserve fruit, vegetables, meat and fish is a book to use and one of the best on the subject that I have come across. There are a few of the usual suspects and the book is no worse for their inclusion, but there is so much more that is new and enticing.
Salt Sugar Smoke – How to preserve fruit, vegetables, meat and fish
Author: Diana Henry
Published by: Mitchell Beazley
Price : £20
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018