Roast Figs, Sugar Snow by Diana Henry ****
Derry woman and Sunday Telegraph food writer Diana Henry has again come up trumps with her latest book, Roast Figs, Sugar Snow. Her first cookbook, Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons, focused on the tastes and enchantments of the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa. With praise from Claudia Roden and its appearance twice on the Glenfiddich award shortlist, it became an instant classic.
Like Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons, there is a focus on travelling in Roast Figs, Sugar Snow. Henry has traversed the chilly areas of the Northern Hemisphere and collected recipes from Maine, Norway, Tuscany and Denmark, grouping them by theme under idiosyncratic chapter headings. Tales From the Hunt covers game and wild mushrooms, Earthly Pleasures focuses on pumpkin, squash, beans and lentils while Sugar Snow is devoted to maple syrup.
Henry’s introductions to each chapter are evocative and personal, being as much a travel guide as information on the ingredients. Like her previous book, there are seasonal quotes scattered throughout from Laurie Lee, Marianne Moore and Robert Frost as well as the piece that inspired her – Laura Ingalls Wilder’s vivid description of a sugar snow in Vermont from Little House in the Big Woods. These literary diversions make Roast Figs, Sugar Snow a book that is worth reading as well as cooking from. But don’t underestimate Henry’s recipes. There’s the detail of Sugar-On-Snow for those Ingalls Wilder fanatics, Beef Pie with Wild Mushrooms and Claret (“you can make men fall in love with you with this pie”), the substantial-sounding Steamed Apple and Marmalade Pudding and Uncle Desmond’s Sloe Gin.
Vividly luminous photographs by Jason Lowe compliment Henry’s sensuous writing and make Roast Figs, Sugar Snow a book to curl up with on a dark night in front of a roaring fire. Just don’t try doing it when you’re hungry.
Roast Figs, Sugar Snow by Diana Henry is published by Mitchell Beazley.