Salt Sugar Smoke by Diana Henry
Published by Mitchell Beazley
September 2012 – £20.00
The worst party invitation I’ve ever been sent said: ‘Come to a Pimm’s Party in Regent’s Park. Please bring Pimm’s, cucumber and lemonade. We will provide ice and paper cups.’ It was alien in every way to the invitation I’ve just received to have tea at food writer Diana Henry’s house. I now understand the true meaning of the phrase ‘what a spread’. Diana’s exquisite tea staged a proprietorial land-grab for the table, spreading from north to south and east to west. Now I come to think of it, I have a better understanding of the phrase ‘High tea’ too. Diana’s tea was lofty in all the best ways – generous in spirit, high on calories and monumental in scale. I was torn between photographing my tea and tucking in to it, but as you can see, good manners prevailed and I captured it on camera first.
The tea, to mark the publication of Diana’s new book on preserving and curing, Salt Sugar Smoke, featured many of her new recipes: perfumed fig and pomegranate jam, home-cured gravadlax, an exquisite crispy salad of apples and onions marinated in rice wine vinegar, passion fruit curd sponge cake and whitecurrant jelly.
Many books on preserving are too hearty and briskly efficient for my taste. I like a little poetry with my pectin and Diana Henry provides it. Salt Sugar Smoke combines both supreme practicality with a creative imagination – rather like Diana Henry herself. This is a book that will teach you how to get the perfect set on your jam, while reminding you of Simone de Beauvoir’s wonderful evocation of the art of jam-making: ‘…the housewife has caught duration in the snare of sugar, she has enclosed life in jars.’
I left Diana’s house with chubby cheeks and a grin. Not only had I eaten one of the best teas of my life, I’d had one of Diana’s cheering pep talks about life and jam. This woman and her books should be made available on the NHS.