It’s wet, cold, and I’ve spent an hour finding a parking spot in pre-Christmas Bath. I am heading to a book club with a difference – they only discuss cookbooks. It sounds quirky, but it could also be as dull as dish water and I am very late. As I head downstairs at the Society café, where the group meet once a month, I worry this has been a total waste of time.
Then I see the table, piled high with glossy, new cookbooks, and at least a dozen women deep in animated conversation about food. As I approach, Silvana de Soissons, the groups leader and editor of the award winning Foodie Bugle website, jumps to her feet, hands me a beautifully calligraphed name tag, and is so warm and welcoming I immediately forget my concerns.
The women are a mixed bunch from food connoisseurs in their sixties, to young students passionate about the ability of good food to change the world. With a slightly back-to-front agenda, I have missed the discussions around food waste and cookbook covers, but arrived just in time for the introductions. Silvana kicks them off with a humorous AA-style confession. “My name is Silvana and I spend a hundred pounds a month on cookbooks”. Despite this, there is only one chef she wholly worships and that is the legendary, Claudia Roden.
Others add their foodie backgrounds and favoured cookbooks. Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros gets all round approval. As does Simon Hopkinson, Elizabeth David and Skye Gyngell. When one of the women suggests that the simplicity of Delia Smith’s recipes irritate her, there is a collective gasp of horror from the group. One of the members launches into a fierce defence of Delia – it was the only way her husband learnt to cook!
Another member, with a fledging food business, makes a couple of suggestions that have me making an immediate mental note to follow up – among them, American food activist and fermentation enthusiast, Sandor Ellix Katz. She lists a number of cookbooks she’d love but can’t afford, “I can get them for you,” chips in Silvana “so long as you review them.”
Old-fashioned cookbooks that teach people how to shop as well as cook, are recommended, as well as the best websites and blogs to find recipes. It’s not just food – another member spends all her disposable income on fine wine and hopes to open a vineyard one day. We get a short lesson from her on why sherry – the drink of the moment – compliments the palette. By the time I emerge into the day outside, I am a confirmed member of the Bath Cookbook Club eagerly awaiting our next meet. Far from a waste of time, it is one of the most interesting and enjoyable mornings I’ve had in ages.
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