The best cookbooks are those with a social context – a sense that the recipes represent meals that have been cooked in a particular place and time and eaten with gusto. They record recipes that were worth writing down to preserve the memory of the meal rather than to promote a restaurant, celebrity chef, a piece of kit, or line of products.
Of all our cookbooks, two of our absolute favourites document the food of migrants – the first has recipes from people who’ve carried their traditions with them as they spread out across the world; and the second features recipes from people who’ve arrived at one place from many countries.
Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food traces the development of Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jewish communities and their cuisine over the centuries and across the world. It’s illustrated with snapshots, explanations of cooking techniques and stories of migration and adaptation. Jewish food is diverse as people adapted their foods to the flavors and cultures of their region - this book is divided into Ashkenazi (Eastern European) and Sephardi (Mediterranean) tradition and features recipes both familiar and new.
Sam & Sam Clark’s Moro East documents their year of gardening in allotments with a community of people who’d arrived in East London from around the Mediterranean. The community garden has since been demolished to make way for the 2012 Olympic park, but the garden community lives on in the recipes and photographs of people and their produce.
We come back to these books again and again, sometimes just for the pleasure of handling them - the thud as they are dropped on the table, the feel of their stiff covers and thick paper, the peek at others' lives and ways of cooking and eating. Reading them is a pleasure in itself.