Friday, 3 April 2015

The Year in Books - the first two months

Alas moving house has absorbed all the energy (and some) of the first three months of the year, so I am catching up on the first two months' books in one post, then I will do another post for March and April.  First off is January's book, which was The Country Life Cookery Book by Ambrose Heath, originally published in 1937 and republished last year by Persephone Books.  It is arranged seasonally around the months of the year, each month starting with a wonderful illustration by Eric Ravilious and a short guide to what to do that month in the kitchen garden.  Heath's intended audience seems to be the relatively affluent country-dweller, who relies on what is available in local village shops and in the kitchen garden; and it is assumed that both are well stocked.  With an increasing connection now being made between growing and cooking vegetables, for example in some of the books published by Nigel Slater and programmes such as Kew on a Plate, it is interesting to see a writer ahead of his time in his insistence that there should be a greater link between kitchen and garden.  In arguing for this he draws on the work Vegetable Cookery by a Mrs Elizabeth Lucas, who "offers the revolutionary theory that the gardener should be under the direction of the cook".  While most of us today lack both servants, but his remarks on the vegetables to grow (or buy) and eat are still relevant and useful.  Unlike many gardeners of his day he argues against going for size and large quantities of a few crops, in all things he is driven by taste.  This comes across in his recipes, he writes with almost greedy interest and definite conviction: one of my favourite lines comes at the end of a recipe for an apple pudding, "Bake until the top crust is brown and crisp, and eat it with gratitude."

The second book, for February, is a novel, A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Brae.  At risk of straying into cliché, I found this hard to put down and was utterly absorbed in its world.  However, it is one of those books that it is hard to review without giving too much away.  In short it deals with the effects of a tragedy on a Mormon family living in the North West of England and observes the events through the eyes of different members of the family in turn.  Throughout the family's faith both helps and hinders their grief and the novel explores the tensions of being a family living by different rules and beliefs to that of the community around them.  I rarely read modern fiction, generally having too much of the back catalogue to get through, but heard the short story the novel started off life as on the radio and needed to read the rest of the story.  It is beautifully written, cathartic (I did a fair amount of weeping), but not mawkish or depressing, do read it.

As ever you can see the other entries in The Year in Books here


  1. I always enjoy your book reviews, Stephanie, thank you. Ambrose Heath was certainly ahead of his time in writing about the connection between garden and kitchen! I hope you are beginning to feel more settled, and are enjoying your new home.