Stand-by for a bit of a rave because I LOVED this book. As you may have gathered, I am partial to good food. In fact, I enjoy cooking almost as much as reading… so when the two interests combine, it’s thrilling (for me, anyway). Charlotte Wood’s Love & Hunger is part memoir, part cookbook.
The book is a wonderful collection of Wood’s thoughts on food, cooking and enjoying meals with friends and family. It includes practical kitchen advice and a generous serving of tempting recipes, accompanied by Wood’s warm commentary on everything from shared meals and picky eaters to discovering offal.
Charlotte Wood is perhaps best known for her novels (notably The Children and Animal People) but Love & Hunger is likely to change that. In moving to non-fiction with Love & Hunger, Wood maintains her particular brand of wry humour, her thoughtful observations of people and also manages to put a great deal of emotion into her words – and yes, you can get emotional about Puy lentils!
Every chapter in this book evoked a personal response whether it be recalling fond memories about food (ranging from my grandpa making me thick slices of white bread spread liberally with jam and cream to my Mum’s crisp, salty homemade potato ‘cakes’); considering what constitutes ‘good, honest food’; thinking about the last time I felt hungry (real, stomach-grumbling hunger); to simply agreeing with Wood about the uninspired fare cooked in a school ‘Home Ec’ class (and yes, I still have my Home Ec cookbook, Cookery the Australian Way).
“I hated Home Ec, as we called it. Even the name implied deprivation, dullness and sobriety. As an adult I have wondered if my feeling might have been different had the classes been called Making Feasts, or How to Have a Party.”
Love & Hunger is packed with practical advice – everything from how to chop an onion efficiently to the five essential utensils every cook must own but the ‘advice’ goes deeper than that – Wood’s chapters about how to be a gracious host and cooking for those that are ill or need comfort are superb – it’s rare that a cookbook is mindful and gentle.
I almost don’t know where to start with pairing this book with a dish. I should pick a recipe from the book (and there are so many tempting ones to try) but instead, I’m taking my lead from the chapter titled ‘Reclaiming the Hostess Gift’ and publishing my own recipe for Tomato Relish (see below), jars of which I regularly give to friends.
“I only learned of the term ‘hostess gift’ in recent years. My mother never used the expression, which to me evokes the women of Elizabeth Montgomery’s ‘Bewitched’ – all bouffant hair and ludicrous frilly aprons. But our mother did manage to instil in us the idea that turning up to someone’s house for dinner empty-handed would be as vulgar as arriving only half-dressed.”
5/5 It’s tempting to ‘devour’ this book in one sitting but instead, treat it like ‘slow-food’ and enjoy the nuggets of wisdom bit by bit.
Dot’s Tomato Relish
(this recipe came from a dear friend’s mum, Dot – note, it’s all about the Keens)
1.5kg roughly chopped, very ripe, skinned tomatoes (you can use cherry tomatoes – no need to skin, just chop in half)
500g onions, chopped
2 1/2 cups malt vinegar (625mls)
Put the chopped tomatoes into a colander over a basin to collect some juice. Set reserved juice aside.
Put the above ingredients into a large pot and bring slowly to a simmer, stirring a couple of times to ensure that the sugar is melted. Simmer uncovered until the mixture is thick (approx 2.5 hours).
In a small bowl, mix together
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 tablespoon curry powder (Keens)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/2 tablespoons dry mustard (Keens)
1 dessertspoon salt
Stir in the reserved tomato juice to the above ingredients using a fork to make a thin paste. If it is not fairly thin, I add a little of the cooked juices, a tablespoon at a time, until it is thin. You then stir the hot mixture as you slowly pour in the thin mixture. Simmer the mixture for about 10 minutes or until you feel it’s a good consistency for relish (I like mine jammier and cook it for up to an hour at this point).
Bottle in clean, warm jars – fill almost to the top. When it has cooled a little, tip a couple of drops of whiskey on the top of the relish and tilt the jar around to cover. Put the lids on and store in the pantry.