The History of English Food – in the company of authors

alt tag goes hereToo many TV food shows affect our ability to actually cook. This was just one of the thorny issues about English food raised at The Bloomsbury Institute discussion last night with Lawrence Norfolk and Kate Colquhoun.

Media of John Saturnall's Feast

The event was held in Bloomsbury Publishing’s Georgian offices in Bedford Square, London, in the heart of Bloomsbury. The Bloomsbury Institute was set up about a year ago as an events programme of monthly live author talks with leading fiction and non-fiction writers. 

Bloomsbury is an independent publishing house with a highly impressive list of authors, including William Boyd, Anthony Bourdain, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Howard Jacobson and Heston Blumenthal, plus Louis Sachar, Benjamin Zephaniah and JK Rowling.

We were shown into the conservatory, offered drinks and were able to look at the books before the talk. Once the talk got underway, the
engaging Lawrence Norfolk read some of the brilliant text from his book, the words sparkling  like brightly coloured diamonds. It was thrilling to hear the passages and I immediately wanted to rush out of the room and grab a copy of his book to keep close. Norfolk writes historical novels and in a nutshell this is about a village boy who starts as a lowly skivvy in the great kitchens of Buckland Manor, and his trials and tribulations before he rises to culinary fame and acclaim. Norfolk says that his friend Kate Colquhoun’s book Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking, was one of the catalysts for his book. We enjoyed some lively chat between the two, with Lawrence Norfolk giving us vivid descriptions of growing up in rural Gloucestershire and some episodes of the family sheep crowding so tightly into a small hut that it exploded cartoon like around them. They also discussed how writing about food can be very difficult as we have very few adjectives in English to describe fully the eating experience.

I didn’t have much time to look at the books, as I was too busy chatting but the look and feel of John Saturnall’s Feast is very pleasing. The design is good and printed on very high quality paper. It would make an excellent Christmas gift for someone interested in the roots of food and it’s history. That someone would be me, but my husband somehow missed the hints I was throwing his way. Next time I will stick around for the book signing and buy if for myself.

Cook.Taste.Autumn.Smile – Review

Cook.Taste.Autumn.Smile by Alex Yandell

Recommended to me via the Guild of Food Writers member’s forum, Cook.Taste.Smile is a series of books for use on the iPad. The author, Alex Yandell, has produced two in the series so far, and I was curious to discover a new form of cookbook. If you are unsure what an iBook is, it as an e-book application by Apple for their operating system and devices. Cook.Taste.Autumn. Smile is available to download via iTunes. See details below

I would normally review a book for the accuracy of the recipes and quality of writing. With this format, I have reviewed both the content and the ease of use.


Once I’d sorted how to view the book (see below) I set about leafing through it. The book is divided into 10 chapters,(30 recipes) which is about right for this style of book. Chapter Four gives three Autumn menus with a wine recommendation for each, and tips on how to make the menu cheaper and healthier. The photographs in the book are stunning and far better viewed on the iPad than in any conventional cookbook. It is this that gives you the urge to replicate the food. The recipes are well written and easy to follow and based on classics with a twist.


Some highlights include Shredded Duck and Roast Plum Salad with sesame, soy and pomegranate dressing,  Roast Cod with Puy Lentils and Tomato and Basil Vinaigrette, Porcini and Chestnut Mushroom Soup, Beetroot soup with horseradish crème frâîche, Pan-fried Sea Bass with potato rosti and tapenade sauce, Slow-roasted Belly of Pork with braised fennel, caramelised apples, and cider gravy and Honey and Five-spice Duck Breast with carrot and cardamon mash and red wine jus.

These demonstrate the style of the book, for keen cooks wanting to impress their friends at weekends. Further Autumnal suggestions are for three preserves, three warming desserts, three afternoon indulgences and three savoury baking recipes. Savoury baking includes a couple of breads, and Mature Cheddar Twists

Do they work?

I tried the Porcini and Chestnut Mushroom Soup with Parmesan Crisps and Sticky Stem Ginger and Prune Cake. Both the recipes were well written and easy to use with clear instructions. The results were excellent, and delivered perfectly judged flavours and textures.

Ease of use

For those of us who have become visually challenged, the real advantage is not having to wear glasses to read the recipes whilst cooking. However it takes a bit of time to get used to. Looking back at the “How to use this book section” right at the beginning, I realised that portrait or landscape modes differ in their presentation. The portrait mode shows whole recipes, as in a print book, so you can view the ingredients and instructions on one page prior to cooking. The landscape mode is designed for reading the large (without glasses!) step-by-step instructions guiding you through the recipe. It is advised to set the screen to full brightness and to switch on the ‘Auto-lock’ setting to ‘Never’.  You can also make notes and highlight parts of text and also add a shopping list, which you can then print or email to yourself. Once you get used to not flipping pages, the user interface is very easy to use and there aren’t too many buttons or confusing functions. In fact, Alex says the book is very attractive to older buyers, as well as the young professionals they originally aimed the book at.

You can see a demo of the book being used here:

About the Author

Rather impressively Alex is still a student at Durham University, studying French and Classics. Alex is in the process of writing and testing recipes for the final two books in the series (‘Winter’ and ‘Spring’) which will be launched over the next nine months. He is also working with Edward Taylor (the series designer and photographer) to bring the books to the iPhone.

Follow Alex on Twitter @cooktastesmile

To sum up:

This is a stylish, good-looking book with recipes for indulgent treats. It is a perfect book for those who enjoy taking time and care with their cooking. The joy of cooking is to use good produce in season to it’s best advantage. This book embraces this philosophy with aplomb. It is not a whizzy app, but strives to produce a beautiful book which is easy to use, and offers helpful functions not available in traditional book form.

Would I recommend?

Most definitely. I can think of a number of iPad-wielding friends who would love it and I will be trying more recipes from it very soon.

How to buy:

The book is now selling for £2.99 on the iTunes store and is an excellent price for the amount of work that has gone into it and much cheaper than the majority of iBooks on the store.

Sticky Stem Ginger and Prune Cake



This is the perfect cake to enliven a dullish day. Although meant to be high summer it felt more like a glorious autumn day and perfect for tramping through the woods with the dog. I half expected Mr Tumnus to pop out from a gnarly oak to offer me a cup of tea. Earl Grey in fine bone china of course. To go with the tea we would have to have cake, and here is a delightful prune and stem ginger cake from Alex Yandell, who has written Cook.Taste.Autumn. Smile for use on the iPad. To find out more go to

This is a great way of seeing recipes while cooking as you can turn the iPad to landscape when the method is enlarged for easy reading. None of that nipping across the kitchen to put on reading glasses to peer at recipe.

170g of self raising flour, sifted together

3 tsp powdered ginger

120g unsalted butter, softened

120g dark soft muscovado sugar

4 TBS golden syrup

2 large free range eggs, beaten

100g of stem ginger in syrup, finely chopped (about 5 knobs)

100g ready to eat prunes, finely chopped

To finish:

2 TBS of syrup from the jar of stem ginger

2 TBS demerara sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 180*C/350*F/ gas mark 4.  Butter a medium sized loaf tin (about 8 1/2 inches by 4) and line it with baking paper.  Set aside.

2.Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

3. Add the golden syrup and the beaten eggs a bit at a time, whisking until thoroughly combined.
4. Whisk in the flour and powdered ginger.
5. Stir in the prunes and chopped stem ginger.
6. Pour  the batter into the prepared loaf tin, smoothing over the top.  Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
7. Remove from the oven.  Immediately brush the top with the stem ginger syrup allowing it to asorb completely.  Sprinkle with the demerara sugar and allow to cool completely in the pan.

This cake will keep very well in a covered tin for about 4 to 5 days.