Browsing cookery books at Borough Market

Enjoy an evening at London’s Borough Market

So what would you choose as your favourite go-to cookery or recipe book? This was one of the key questions put to a panel of four influential foodies working in the business including a writer, retailer, publisher and librarian. The debate was hosted by the fabulous Borough Market in south London, as a part of its season of #boroughtalks with topics as diverse as facing the challenges of children’s food and joining the drinks revolution.

It was a stimulating evening with a crowd of some 120 enjoying thoughts about the past, present and future of cookbooks, and of course refreshments provided by Borough Market stallholders including Brindisa, The Ginger Pig and Bread Ahead.

The panel in full swing, from left: Angela, Stephanie, Felicity, Monika and Peter

The debate was led by well-known food writer Angela Clutton and panelists included Monika Linton, founder of the Spanish food importer Brindisa and author of the fabulous, eponymous food story and recipe book. Seven years in the writing the book has quickly become a classic, enjoyed for its stories of Spanish producers, markets and home cooks and ingredients as much as for recipes and dishes created across a very diverse landscape.

Stephanie Jackson, publishing director at Octopus Group, laid the ground with some interesting thoughts about the huge volume of cookery books published in the UK every year. She says the fastest growing sector is the functional, the ‘how too’ books, such as the ‘Lean In’ series of books by fitness pin-up Joe Wicks. Other popular categories include national and regional books such as the Middle Eastern offerings of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sabrina Gaynor. These chart toppers were followed closely by Italy-themed recipe books and then books about Indian cuisine, although with titles such a 120 Ways with Chicken Curry, rather than the more people and story-led books that the panel seemed to prefer. The top seller list is propped up by books describing British food and recipes, said Stephanie.

Panellist and food book historian Dr Peter Ross at London’s Guildhall library said the first British cookbook was published in around 1500, and recommends reading Hannah Glass, a cookery writer from the 1800s for an example of an early, inspiring style. Peter has gathered some intriguing recipes into his own book, The Curious Cookbook, including some 17th Century recipes involving stewed sparrows, barbecued otter and a version of blackbirds baked in a pie, but using frogs and toads!

Stephanie added that the 1980s were dominated by Delia Smith’s books, followed in the 1990s and 2000s by often ghost written celebrity books. Today’s reader is looking for something a little more sophisticated and distinctive – well-crafted and designed books with stories of people, ingredients and landscape.

Refreshment was provided by Brindisa, The Ginger Pig and Bread Ahead

Guardian columnist Felicity Cloake completed the panel, sharing her thoughts gleaned from writing her popular ‘Perfect …’ column. With 16 metres of shelving groaning under her cookbook collection at home, Felicity has recently added her own book (a very useful and an enjoyable read) ‘The A-Z of Eating’ to those shelves. She says that while the internet helps people solve problems and is good for boning up on new techniques and problem solving, it’s very functional and offers less inspiration to home cooks. Browsing a cookery finding treasures and is one of life’s pleasures … ‘ooh, that looks good. I wonder if I can make this’.

So which names did the panellists put forward as inspirational, practical or simply enjoyable to read. Popular contemporary writers included Lindsay Bareham, Nigel Slater, Simon Hopkinson,Nigella Lawson and Delia, about whom one panellist remarked, ‘writes recipes that work, but are too restrained’. They lack punch, was the quote, not enough chillies or garlic. Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David of the 1950s – 1970s were also highlighted and much further back in time, Hannah Glass’ prose and recipes were praised.

Monika’s Brindisa book was a held up as a great example of a new generation of cook books led by stories of ingredients, of people although it does pack in over 200 recipes, 34 ingredient panels and stories about getting taking the smaller roads of Spain, meeting producers of a rare sheep cheese, or highly localised cured meats.

Adding to my library at Borough Talks

So what’s my current go to book(s)? Well that would be Citrus by Catherine Phipps; Brindisa and Sicily by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi … and a holiday destination this Autumn!

For more details on similar Borough Market events see …

Bruce McMichael

Food writing, discovering food stories, meeting producers, chefs and food enthusiasts are all part of desire to inspire, inform my readers and fellow food lovers. I am a freelance writer, journalist and published author focusing on the international world of food and drink, culture and travel. In 2019 I graduated from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy with a Masters in Food Culture, Communication and Marketing. I am now a visiting Professor at the university teaching Food & Drink Writing. Based in London I travel widely, particularly across western Europe. I have chaired many conferences and meetings, spoken at conferences and events and often appear on radio and TV talking most about food, the business of food and being an entrepreneur. In 2017 I won an episode of the ITV (the UK-based national television channel) cooking competition show, 'Gordon Ramsay's Culinary Genius'. I took my children on holiday to Sicily with the prize money. As an experienced farmers' market manager and operator of a small marmalade/ preserves company, I am very familiar with the issues surrounding local food, farming, enterprise and the environment.