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Wild Figs & Fennel, And Digestible Dreams

My third book is published today.


As the world of cookbook publishing grows ever larger it’s important to do a little self-analysis (I am a writer, after all) and ask oneself why people might want to buy this book when they have a million they already probably never use, and unlimited access to billions of recipes online.  


My own reasoning, as a seasoned cookbook collector and someone who simultaneously has very little space for said cookbooks, is that it’s not just a cookbook, it’s a book-book, and we never need to justify another book-book, so why feel guilty about a cookbook? Perhaps because we are made to feel that cookbooks are functional. If we don’t cook from them then they have failed in their purpose, and we in our purchase. I disagree. There are many cookbooks I own that I have never cooked from, but that doesn’t mean they are worthless. Far from it. What I love about cookbooks is that they are transportative. They take us somewhere. Not necessarily to a country or region (though in many instances this may be the case) but often to a kitchen, way back in the yellow haze of memory, or a real and present one; to a table, taverna or a trattoria, to some place that is not our own desk/kitchen/house where the ironing pile tilts in Pisan peril and the fridge is flooded and the roses need spraying with soap to keep off the greenfly. The best cookbooks allow us to dare to dream. That one day we may own a lemon tree to make our own roasted mozzarella in lemon leaves. That one day we may own a freezer large enough to store frozen raspberries and rhubarb and home-made stock and have a pantry full of home-made preserves. Cookbooks are escapist. They take us out of ourselves. Even when they are not necessarily intended to do so. Even the most functional cookbook, designed solely to demonstrate and detail doable and delicious recipes, takes us to another table, another kitchen, another fridge, another family.


Cookbooks are for the curious, for the innately nosy, and that, I am not afraid to admit, is me. The first thing I do when I go to anyone’s house (even an AirBnB) is open the fridge and see what’s inside. It’s a habit which I have inherited from my father and have never been able to shake. It is automatic, I do it without thinking. We are all inherently nosy, it’s a universal human trait, and cookbooks feed that curiosity. They feed our imaginations as much as our stomachs.


The cookbooks I have never cooked from but have at least managed to flick through all have a rightful place in my library – both the one in my house and the one in my head – because they have taken me somewhere; for a few brief moments they have lifted me out of my every-day. They have silenced the dull mosquito whine of things that need doing, the dishes that sit dirtied, and the recycling that needs to be sorted into 5 different coloured bins which require 5 different coloured bags. I love travel writing, but it is more distant, a butterfly dream that dances further from my tiny child’s net, too distant from the domestic, because I know that – realistically - I will never again stride a mountain dressed entirely in Alpaca and drink yak milk for breakfast (who will feed the dog? And parking?) but, one day, I may well dare to make a double layered jelly with homegrown berries and cream. Cookbooks give us dreams that are digestible, and for that, I love them. Because a life without dreams is a life not worth living.


Wild Figs and Fennel is full of ideas, of dreams that are - I hope - doable. It is full of a place that is my home and the people that populate it, a place which is flawed like everywhere, but beautiful in its rugged imperfection. It is full of recipes that are stories, stories of these people and this place, and if it manages to take you out of your everyday for just a minute, then two years of hard work will have been worth it. And if you actually cook from it too, well then I will be very happy indeed.    

I hope you will like it.





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