This is a book that reminds this reviewer of a great lunch in a traditional English pub. A big thick brick of a sandwich, simple yet with a great filling. Something you can return to time after time without feeling jaded or seeking something new.
And what is more this is the author's first book. What will future ones be like? The author is a relatively new name in English cuisine, who now operates her own pub and restaurant called "The British Larder" (guess where the book's title came from!). Essentially you get a month-by-month look at some of the best produce available in the United Kingdom and many great recipes designed to take advantage of the cream of the crop.
Production values have not been skimped with this book, which is great to see. First you are greeted to a fair old bit of "housekeeping" explaining about the British Larder, the author and her website, a look at the Suffolk region of England (from where the pub-restaurant is based), various notes about the recipes and then general advice before being presented with the "British Larder" basics, essential sauces, stocks and the like that will feature regularly within the recipes.
After that it is time to work through the calendar. Each month starts off with a veritable feast of information about various rituals and activities particular to that month, a look at seasonal produce (and how it might be preserved for later) and lots of little nuggets of lore, information and advice for good measure. This is one of those books that should you not be minded to go in the kitchen, you can still curl up with it on your sofa and just enjoy the text and - of course - the exceptionally brilliant photography. You are getting a bit of a lifestyle book for good measure too.
You can really feel the love, the passion, that the author has for food and country life- as-a-whole through this book. It figuratively drips through each and every page.
When you get to the recipes it is fair to say that they err more on the complex, involved side than the simple, "10 minutes and you are done"-style of things. This is no bad thing. You are working with good ingredients and they deserve good, respectful treatment at the same time. Yet nothing in this book seems to fall into the "style over substance" school of overtly-fussy cooking either. Naturally there are pub favourites with a twist, so instead of a regular boring beef burger you can try "Venison Burgers with Roasted Parsnip Straws and Beetroot and Red Onion Relish". These would be worth breaking any diet for!
Simpler fare can exist with things like a "Chilled Pea Soup with Cheddar Cream and Soft-boiled Quail's Eggs" or a "Damson and Bramble Plate Pie" for those who want something tasty yet slightly smaller in size. Something exists for probably everyone who likes food and, of course, all recipes are tweakable should you so desire or should there be difficulties obtaining a certain ingredient or two.
The book goes through the year at speed, despite it feeling like a leisurely pace and not-at-all rushed. Yet at the end of the year you can "smell" burning rubber as the brakes are slammed on and a great index is presented. No retrospective. No review. Nothing that one can say is particularly missing but, yet, a tinge of sadness can exist. What to do then, other than start the book again whilst the author (hopefully) beavers away on a second tome. But boy, with such a great first book, the second one has an incredibly high bar to beat.
The British Larder: A Cookbook for all seasons, written by Madalene Bonvini-Hamel and published by Absolute Press. ISBN 9781906650711, 448 pages. Typical price: GBP30. YYYYY.