Six Degrees of Separation: The Foodie Special

Books and reading

On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.

Kate: Six Degrees of Separation

This month, our chain starts off with a recipe book: Jamie Oliver‘s The Naked Chef. I’ve used this and other books by Jamie Oliver as jumping-off points when thinking what to cook. But what I really like is a recipe book that’s a good enough read to enjoy even when not planning meals.

So that’s why I’m starting my chain with Rachel Roddy. I used to follow her when she was a food blogger, a young Englishwoman living in Rome. Then she wrote a book. Then the Guardian newspaper took her up. These days she blogs no longer. But I still use and enjoy that first book, My Kitchen in Rome, in which she talks about Testaccio, the working area of Rome where she lives, far from the tourist hot-spots. She writes about the daily market, her discovery of Roman foods and recipes, and getting to know those who help her on her culinary journey. It’s a right good read. With added recipes.

Nigel Slater is another food writer featured in the Guardian and Observer. I own just about every book he’s written: but today, even if it’s definitely not OK to start doing the Christmas shopping and enter shops where Christmas musak is already being belted out, it is OK already to have baked the family Christmas cake, I’m featuring his The Christmas Chronicles. It intersperses vignettes from his life with observations from his garden, his travels, his kitchen, his Christmas preparations with recipes for Christmas and the winter season generally. Like Rachel’s book, it’s a jolly good read.

The book which probably started many of us out on our cooking explorations is Elizabeth David‘s A Book of Mediterranean Food, first published in 1959. It doesn’t have the same story book quality of Roddy and Slater’s books, but it’s more than a list of ingredients followed by the instructions. She sets the scene, either with her own words or those of other writers, to explain the joy of say a family lunch, a Greek feast, the snail. She explains which ingredients are best, how you might make do, and when you must not make do. I no longer use David’s books as much as I did, but she’s the foundation on which so many later cooks and their books were built.

We’ll stay in the Mediterranean. I’ve written before about my entirely unrequited love affair with Commissario Guido Brunetti in Donna Leon‘s books set in Venice. In any one of them you’ll find evocatively described meals, family meals prepared by his talented wife Paola, or those taken in one of the neighbourhood restaurants he’s come to know and be known at over the years. Let’s pick on Trace Elements. A dying woman has an important message to relay to Commissario Brunetti about her recently deceased husband. Inevitably, she dies before she’s able to convey clearly what she needed to say. Can Brunetti and his friend and colleague Claudia Griffoni pick the bones out of all this? Inevitably, they can. Inevitably too, there are twists and turns on the way, and an intriguing ending. A classically satisfying tale, with meal time interludes. 

Still in Italy – Sicily this time. Andrea Camilleri‘s Inspector Montalbano is reliably greedy. His housekeeper leaves him tempting suppers to enjoy when he returns from labouring over yet another murder. Local restaurateurs know him well, and keep their choicest dishes for him. All Camilleri’s books about him celebrate his love of food. It’s a long time since I’ve read one, so no review for this one: The Terracotta Dog.

We’ll finish with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on the Prairie books, which my younger daughter read incessantly for a period when she was about 10. It describes the life and adventures of a pioneer family in 19th century America, and the simple business of living occupied much of their days. In Little House in the Big Woods, for example, we’ll be with mother and daughters as they bake bread, churn butter, grow vegetables, dry fruits, make pickles. Father may turn up with a fowl for the pot. It was a simple, tough and hardworking life lived by an energetic and loving family with a deep uncomplicated faith. As my daughter prepared for her teenage years in a rather different society, these books were her frequent companions.

I don’t think I’ve ever written a book post about food before, and I doubt if I shall again. But it’s been fun. Back to the world of fiction next month, for Eowyn Ivey‘s The Snow Child. Join in on the first Saturday in December with a chain of your own?

74 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: The Foodie Special

  1. A really enjoyable chain. Being a woman of a certain age, I have a couple of Elizabeth David books – those cookbooks that we had before all those glossy coffee table ones with lots of pics. I have her Italian food, but not I think her Mediterranean food. (I’m not home at the moment). I have friends who love Donna Leon but I’m not a big reader of mystery and crime. But, we did used to love to watch the Montalbano TV shows.

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  2. Oh, brilliant post, and I have read almost all of the authors featured, if not those precise books! And E D was the doyenne of Mediterranean cookery, I still make ratatouille niçoise as per her recipe!

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  3. It’s not usual that I should salivate over a blog post but I did over this one. Happy memories of some lovely dishes and some great authors , characters, and cooks. I shall now go and prepare lunch. If only Nigel Slater was here to do it for me!

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  4. Lovely chain. I enjoyed the Little House series as a child but haven’t read any of your other books. I left the food theme behind after the first link and then went in a completely different direction with my chain.

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  5. Another interesting chain, though I am not tempted this time to go and buy / reserve any of the cookbooks, I have far too many recipes and cookbooks to ever need another one – though I have been tempted by Ottolenghi’s Plenty. You on the other hand might enjoy his book Jerusalem which combines recipes and stories about the background of the two authors: Ottolenghi and Tamimi both grew up in Jerusalem at the same time, but did not know each other. I rejected this book on the basis that the recipes were quite complicated, or at least had many ingredients not available around here. I have however reserved some of the Donna Leon books from the library, so thanks for reminding me of those books.

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    1. Like you, I’m not about to buy any more cookery books, though I’m often tempted. I still enjoy cooking, and find it relaxing, but increasingly, I’m going ‘simple’. So maybe Jerusalem is one to borrow from the library – though sadly it’s not in my library’s catalogue. Enjoy Donna Leon!

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      1. Ah, the power of the imagination! Douglas Henshall ruined the Jimmy Perez books for me because I saw the tv show first and fell for his portrayal. Meeting Ann Cleeves’ version in the books was a shock!

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  6. Very nice post, I admire that you could stick with the food and cooking theme. I do love the cooking / eating and description of meals in Donna Leon’s books and the Montalbano series. I have not read more than 3 or 4 in either series, but I have a few more on my shelves. And thanks for stopping by my post at Bitter Tea and Mystery.

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  7. I’ve just over stuffed on chocolates, Margaret- no, I can’t leave a box unfinished, but I did have a willing helper. I like the Leon books for the Venice backdrop but I’m a disinterested cook. Jamie doesn’t look a bit like that these days, but I quite like the sound of the Rome cookbook.

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  8. Good post & a new set of recommendations for me to read. I enjoy reading cookbooks, not for the recipes but for the stories and background they tell. It’s so much more interesting.

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  9. A delightful stroll through some enticing sounding books. Sadly, I am not a cook, not interested in cooking, and only do the bare minimum to feed me and my husband. However, some of your descriptions ALMOST make me think about …… cooking? hmmmm 🙂 Fun chain.
    Terrie @ Bookshelf Journeys

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  10. There are more chefs and cooks doing food books that have recipes woven into a “story” of sorts. A great idea as it rounds out the book. I am reading one atm, by the Aussie equivalent of Hugh Fearnsley, Whittingstall.

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  11. Delicious post! Nigel Slater is my favourite cookery writer for all the reasons you cite. The Christmas Chronicles is currently enjoying a reread and spends its time between the kitchen table and the bedside cabinet – perfect bedtime reading. Jamie Oliver’s books never worked for me, I like his recipes though. I’ve never read Rachel Roddy and clearly I should. And Donna Leon has crossed my radar more than once (probably from you). I must give her a try!

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    1. Thanks for this. I’ve just tried to comment on your post – an intriguing chain from which I really only know Bryson and Kästner – but it keeps on throwing up an error message. Mr. Google and I aren’t getting on well today!

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      1. Oh no! I had the same problem with your page and that of another WordPress blogger. Someone told me to use Chrome instead. I had it on my PC and tried it, and it works. However, it is stupid that the sites don’t “talk” to each other on another server (I normally use Firefox). Still, I am glad it works from my side now, even though it is a bit more complicated but I’ll live with that. Maybe, if you have trouble with other Blogger users, you can give it a try.
        So, which ones of my books do you know?

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      2. I always use Chrome, and Gmail, so I ought to be Google friendly already. Can’t print today, can’t do anything! Of your choices, I know Bryson and the Lisa and Lotte – though both read ages ago

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      3. Oh no! What a shame. Let’s hope we’ll find another way to communicate both ways. If you have a message for me, you can always send me an e-mail or comment on this post.
        Happy Sunday.

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  12. A fun chain, Margaret. I loved your addition of some fiction. .And Brunetti and Montalbano are perfect choices. I’d be happy to sit down for a meal with that pair. And whilst I rarely buy cookery books now, the Rome one is very tempting.

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  13. Yummy! I was hungry when I started reading this post, now I am starving. I’ve enjoyed Guido Brunetti (thanks for the recommendation) and Inspector Montalbano. The Laura Ingalls books were some of the first books I ever read and I loved them. Now, I will go and get some food!

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  14. I have read Eowyn Ivey‘s The Snow Child. I’m not 100% sure who recommended it, but I generally suspect you! I enjoyed it, although not every aspect. Looking forward to your review though!

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  15. Elizabeth David and Nigel Slater, yes, but Jamie Oliver no thanks. And, although I do love it when knowledgeable and talented authors weave food and drink into their stories, I am not one for actual, celebrity cookbooks – did you know that Patricia Cornwell published Scarpetta’s Winter Table? The mind boggles as the stomach objects.

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