Spattered with sauce, used to prop open pantries, weighed down with tins and pored over while you eat something far less nourishing, cookbooks are both practical guides and portals to other worlds, other cuisines, and other ways of cooking.
And in the case of Diana Henry, the Irish food writer and cookbook author, who has just won the prestigious Food Award at the André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards, other ways to scoff peaches.
The recipe columnist’s latest book, How To Eat A Peach, was up against First, Catch by Thom Eagle; Lateral Cooking by Niki Segnit; MOB Kitchen by Ben Lebus; Pasta, Pane, Vino by Matt Goulding; Pie And Mash Down The Roman Road by Melanie McGrath; Shetland by James and Tom Morton; Together by The Hubb Community Kitchen – which won a Special Commendation – and Black Sea by Caroline Eden – which won the John Avery Award.
The Drink Award was claimed by The Sommelier’s Atlas Of Taste by Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay, with chef, food writer and author, Meera Sodha and wine expert and journalist, Victoria Moore, leading the judging.
And while the shortlist was undoubtedly strong, here’s what you ought to know about Diana Henry and her work, whether you’re a follower already, or not…
She knows chicken. The woman is famed for her bounteous chicken recipes (she’d fill notebooks with ideas for ‘Chicken with…’) and has, in fact, won a highly-respected James Beard Award for her cookbook devoted entirely to chicken recipes, A Bird In The Hand. We’d very much recommend her chicken and mango curry in 2016 cookbook, Simple.
Henry grew up in Northern Ireland but now lives in London, and it was on a French exchange trip (where she experienced proper olive oil), and a trip to Spain (squid ink pasta), that first saw her become seriously interested in food. Particularly, she says, as aubergines and peppers were considered exotic in Northern Ireland during the mid-Seventies, when she was first starting to cook.
She began her career in television, as a producer for the BBC after studying English Literature at Oxford University. She worked on several Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall series.
She turned to food writing after the birth of her first son, following a stint at Leiths Cookery School, but has been feeding and having people round to eat since she was 16 (with increasing degrees of success – and at university, a particular frangipane tart proved something of a turning point). She writes a weekly recipe column for The Telegraph.
How To Eat A Peach features menu ideas triggered by a long-time penchant for jotting down menus: "I think of a menu, and then I think about who would like to eat it," she says. It is her 11th cookery book, and has a suitably soft jacket, just like the fuzz of a ripe peach.
At The Kitchen Table is her (sporadic) podcast. The four episodes so far recorded feature interviews with Yotam Ottolenghi, Tom Kerridge, Ruby Tandoh and Rick Stein. Here’s hoping she books a few more in.
Her travel tips on Instagram are excellent. Henry is always off on foodie research trips and adventures. Recent destinations have included Vietnam, Isle of Skye, New York City and Moscow. She’s pretty handy with a camera, and gives detailed notes on what and where she’s eaten.