Scoff by Pen Vogler. Atlantic Books, £20
What does what we eat and how we eat it, say about who we are? Quite a lot. Scoff is a superbly researched romp through food, cooking and class in Britain, looking at everything from brown bread versus white to the dangers of the dinner party. Full of history, Scoff is never heavy, thanks to Vogler’s writing style and wit, such as her chapter on the fork which begins with the line, “No implement has drawn as much ire or scorn on its users as the fork, until, perhaps, the fish knife.”
Nose Dive by Harold McGee. Hodder, £35
McGee, the man who put food science on the map with his seminal book On Food and Cooking, here sets his sights on our sense of smell in his latest book, Nose Dive. It’s an exploration into the science behind smell that teases out everything from why pets smell – well, smellier – after the rain, to why the durian – a fruit infamous for its offensive aroma – tastes so delicious but smells so bad. As you’d expect from McGee, there’s lots of science but delivered with a gentle touch. A riveting read that’s sure to be a classic.
The Food Almanac by Miranda York. Pavilion, £16.99
The Food Almanac is full of bite-sized, seasonally themed essays on food and drink – everything from Marina O’Loughlin’s musings on toast to Kay Plunkett Hogge’s thoughts on festive cocktails. Includes a menu for each month from food writers such as Rachel Roddy and Olia Hercules. York not only curates the collection but also contributes her own beautifully written thoughts on food. The perfect book to tuck into for a long read during the cold days and nights of winter and then dip back into throughout the year.
An Onion in My Pocket by Deborah Madison. Alfred A Knopf, £20
An Onion in My Pocket is the memoir from Deborah Madison, one of the most influential chefs and writers championing locally grown, seasonal and vegetarian cooking. Madison traces her roots from her time at the Zen Centre in San Francisco to working with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse and then opening Greens restaurant. Writing of the vegetables grown for the restaurant she says simply, “I was madly in love with this produce.” A welcome read from a master food writer who has given us classics such as Vegetable Literacy and changed the way we think, shop, eat and cook.
Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake. Vintage, £20
Next time you eat a slice of bread, sip a beer, or shave truffle onto your pasta, say a word of thanks to fungi. These multi-talented organisms also make medicines, eat rock and make soil, says Merlin Sheldrake in his book Entangled Life. Yet, he adds, we’ve documented less than 10 per cent of their species. Sheldrake, a biologist and writer, redresses the balance with a captivating look at the “entangled” lives of fungi that shows how they changed – and continue to change – our world.
Women in the Kitchen by Anne Willan. Simon & Schuster, £20
Women in the Kitchen tells the stories of 12 women who shaped food and cookbook writing, from Hannah Wooley’s The Queen-like Closet, or Rich Cabinet (“The first handbook written in English by a woman for women”) to Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook (“Alice Waters took America back to its roots”). Willan is a formidable name in food herself (she founded La Varenne Cookery School in Paris) and has chosen her subjects well, giving voice to women who helped define what we eat for more than 300 years.
Everything is Under Control by Phyllis Grant. Harper Collins, £12.99
Everything is Under Control is a slender, pared down “memoir with recipes” that you can savour in one sitting. Almost more poetry than prose, it’s the story of chef and writer Phyllis Grant’s life in food. At times, breathtakingly painful and suffused with sadness, it’s always fuelled by food, as during the aftermath of 9/11: “I braise meat, assemble pesto lasagnas, bake chocolate chip cookies. All I can do is feed people.”
Fermentation as Metaphor by Sandor Ellix Katz. Chelsea Green Publishing, £20
Sandor Ellix Katz kickstarted the fermentation revival with his book The Art of Fermentation. Fermentation as Metaphor – his latest – takes the idea of the slow bubbling away of fermentation as a metaphor for change in life. “When metaphorical fermentation occurs, it often spreads, transforming what was into what’s next.” Includes stunning photos celebrating microbes and the “microbial force field” inside our bodies.
Dirt by Bill Burford. Jonathan Cape, £18.99
Dirt is like a long and languorous lunch with far too much to eat and drink, but all the better for it. Burford – whose bestseller Heat charted his time spent in Italy learning to cook – now sets his sights on tackling classical French cuisine. It’s the story of how he uproots his family from New York and moves to Lyon (some of the funniest bits in a very funny book) for what was supposed to be a few short months but turned into a five-year journey.
The Man Who Ate Too Much by John Birdsall. WW Norton & Company, £28
The Man Who Ate Too Much is the story of James Beard, the larger (literally) than life food writer who revolutionised the way Americans cooked and ate. This is the first biography of Beard in 25 years and looks at not only his professional achievements but also his personal life as a gay man in 20th century America. “Beard carried himself like an outsider, an alien with a secret, a man on a lonely coast who told us we could find meaning and comfort by embracing pleasure.”
Borough Market Edible Histories by Mark Riddaway. Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99
Borough Market Edible Histories is the perfect pick-me-up collection of essays on everything from bananas (“… wherever sugar and slaves were taken, bananas followed”) to strawberries and pasta. These are everyday ingredients with riveting histories that Riddaway, editor and publisher of Borough Market’s Market Life magazine, teases out with passion and a wealth of knowledge. As he says, “If you want to eat well, there’s no such thing as too much knowledge.”
How to Feed a Dictator by Witold Szablowski. Penguin, £14.99
What was it like to cook for Saddam Hussein? In How to Feed a Dictator – a riveting read by Witold Szablowski – we learn that his personal chef Abu Ali had to sign a confidentiality agreement when he took the job. “It said that if I broke this promise, I would incur the penalty of death by hanging.” Over a four-year period, Szablowski tracked down the chefs who worked not only for Saddam Hussein but also Idi Amin, Enver Hoxha, Fidel Castro and Pol Pot. He shares what he learnt when the cooks spilt the beans on the dining habits of some of history’s most infamous, sometimes reviled, and often revered dictators.