The Natural Cook, Tom Hunt

The Kitchen Orchard, Natalia Conroy

The Recipe Wheel, Rosie Ramsden

We lovers of cookery books spend time every year reading the Christmas reviews and roundups.  This year, for all my slogging-blogging, I was able to decide which books I really rated and approached the publishers for review copies.  I only asked for books I knew I would want to keep on my already over-filled shelves.  These are books I heartily recommend to readers… for this year, next year and beyond… really lovely books!

The Natural Cook, The Kitchen Orchard, and The Recipe Wheel are an easy trilogy– they’re all arranged around conceptual frameworks that shape a vision of how to cook and eat, at the same time each being a recipe book– in the most obvious sense, sharing personal recipes. They are all also based on themes or sets of fairly common and versatile ingredients. There’s also an element of zeitgeist happening in that these are books based on a diagrams of sorts.   I relate to them -They are how I cook.  These are books that fit in with an ethos of seasonality, affordability, and finding patterns in the kitchen in which economy matters and waste doesn’t happen.  Yet the books reflect individual styles and voices, and are each beautifully envisioned and produced. These are three great titles that will last beyond one publishing season.


Rosie Ramsden’s The Recipe Wheel is based on the concept of “mind maps“, a brilliant visual tool for organising lots of disparate ideas for people who get overwhelmed by inspirations, ideas, and lists. From this notion she takes a simple food form, with a “basic formula at heart,” like Risotto, or Custard, and takes you in all the directions she’s gone, from simple variations to “wild tangents”.  This way a core “Potato Gratin” will become to a Squash, Blue Cheese and Walnut Gratin, or “Wilted Greens” will lead you by the hand to “Baby Leeks Vinaigrette.” “Poached Fish,” “Roast Chicken,” “Braised Beef,” and “Vegetable Soup” are all chapters that take you on a journey through lots of possibilities for meals.  On the one hand, it’s a collection of really lovely and appealing recipes–with themes like “No frills,” “Friends,” “Leftovers,” and “Night in”; on the other, in exposing her thought processes, she lets the reader in on how to mind-map one’s own culinary inspiration, such that you can begin thinking this way on your own — allowing seasonal and whimsical variation, not wasting what you have, permitting upscaling or downscaling in line with your budget, etc.  Even though her recipes are impeccable, and I want to follow them, I also feel a kind of freedom in the presence of her ideas– a winning feeling in a book.  The Recipe Wheel is beautifully designed as well, with matte pages and a colourful yet restrained palette, really sweet watercolour illustrations and quite bold diagrams.  


When I opened The Kitchen Orchard, my heart stopped.  Something about Gingerbread Ice Cream made me gasp, I could imagine the pleasure of its taste so viscerally.  But every recipe is exciting, with a style that is both simple and made special with a light touch of decoration.  Natalia Conroy has organised her book according to pantry items, more specifically, what she keeps in her larder and fridge from which she can then “forage.”  This might be a bit of an artificial conceit, but no matter, because pantry books have been around for a long time, and she’s actually honestly describing cooking with ingredients she tends to have on hand. And this way she offers ways habitual items can become newly interesting, if not thrilling.  The recipes are arranged, very deliciously, around  vegetables, fresh herbs, dairy and eggs, spices, and store cupboard ingredients in the form of: “Parsley, Garlic, Basil,” “Dill, Mint,” “Apples, Lemons,”  “Eggs, Milk,” “Coriander Seed, Fennel Seed, Caraway Seed” and more.   She’s got a great sophisticated British style, with a kind of Russian soul from her mother– this combination feels unique in itself.  Like The Recipe Wheel, The Kitchen Orchard is about using what you have when you have it, shared by cooks who have educated themselves to prepare beautiful food at home, in unfussy, un-cheffy style, with nonetheless the compelling desire for food to fill and nourish and delight.  


Tom Hunt is a chef, and a food-skills and anti-food waste campaigner, who works hard to bring together the worlds of pleasure and principle. His book The Natural Cook: Eating the Seasons from Root to Fruit is a big, heavy, gorgeous, colourful compendium of ideas structured around the seasons and ingredients within them; really originally for Britain, I think, he then goes further and suggests how to apply different techniques to each ingredient– a radish, say, can be raw or steamed, or radish leaf soup or pickled… beetroots can be roasted or boiled or candied or shredded in hummus….  If this approach seems obvious, reading through ingredient after ingredient approached with creative processes and flavours feels really, to me, like being elevated or pushed forward in my cooking– an exciting feeling.  Rosie Ramsden’s mind-mapping is recalled for Tom Hunt here.  The Natural Cook is a book to read if you find yourself feeling bored in the kitchen and want a home-spun take on how a contemporary “eco-chef” might do things at home, recipe after exciting recipe– including simple ones like cauliflower “rice” (a great paleo food) and a beautiful recipe for Orange Sangria that I am in fact going to make tonight (Christmas Eve)!


These are three wonderful cookery books of 2014, birds of a feather and yet each a unique voice and collection.  Heartily recommended  for last minute gifts or to treat yourself…