Back in 2002, Diana Henry revealed herself to be one of the great modern food writers with the very first sentence of her very first book. ‘I came to live in London in my early twenties’ is how she begins the magisterial Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons.
There it is: the young girl, the big city, expressed with perfect economy, a sentence that is also an aphorism. Although she never mentioned it, the prestigious universities of Oxford and London had honed her style to a diamond-hard polish that was fully-formed. Ms Henry also never mentioned that she was born in Northern Ireland, and thus was emerging from a strange place at a strange time.
But that Northern Ireland caterpillar was already a seeking butterfly, one who was fluttering over the Middle East, the Nordic countries, the Americas. Her travels taught her a vital lesson, which she revealed at the end of the introduction to CW,PL: ‘With food, you don’t have to buy an airline ticket or don a backpack – the magic of the exotic is there, right beside the everyday stuff, for you to bring into your kitchen.’
The magic of the exotic. Doesn’t that sound like the ideal title for a Diana Henry cookbook? It would have worked perfectly had she chosen it as the title of her newest book, her eleventh work in less than two decades.
But the new book is entitled How to Eat a Peach because once, in an Italian restaurant, Ms Henry saw and learnt how smart Italians eat peaches. And, like the autodidact she is, she never forgot the lesson.
The new book is sub-titled ‘menus, stories and places' and this time we get a glimpse of her youth in Northern Ireland, and the writing is of a Heaney-esque pitch: happy-sad, conflicted, hopeful but naked.
Cooking, says Ms Henry, is ‘about taking care of the small, seemingly unimportant things.’ This exquisite book makes the unimportant things into magical things.
How to Eat a Peach is published by Mitchell Beazley