The Pepperpot Diaries; Rice Table; Upgrade

Confused by the title? Well, come and have a look at my (overflowing) book shelves. For a good number of years I tried to operate a one in, one out policy when it came to cookery books. Now, however, I can't think of a single one in my collection I could bear to part with. I can maintain my discipline about not buying new ones for myself - just think of all the recipes by your favourite authors which you haven't tried - but I can't control the generosity of others. Here's an interesting selection which has come into my possession recently.

The Pepperpot Diaries

Andi Oliver

Dorling Kinderesley                   pp286                                               £27

Andi Oliver says in the foreword that this is a book which has been swirling around her for years. Subtitled Stories from my Caribbean table, it is a very personal memoir. The recipes are the things which were made at home on Antigua, in a household which was not particularly well off, where making the best of basics was an art.

You will immediately recognise Andi's distinctive features. She is a regular on food programmes, most recently as a presenter on BBC's Great British Menu. It is less well known that she first came to fame as a pop star, being a member of Rip Rig + Panic with Neneh Cherry.

Long slow cooking is a Caribbean way of life. A pepperpot is a huge pan of food which would be produced for large family gatherings. Be warned. This is not an introduction to Caribbean food for the European market. For the first recipe, Mamma's pepperpot, the ingredients include 1.5kg salt beef, 1 smoked ham hock, 1 whole oxtail, and 4 salted pigs' tails. If you don't have your own smoker, Andi tells you how to make one.

You will not find jerk chicken here, and barbecue features but little. You may know curry goat, especially if you are a regular reader of Tom Cooks!. Andi puts chocolate in hers, Mexican style. Of course you will find rice and peas, but much of this will be foreign to you, even if you've visited the Caribbean. One for the real enthusiast.

Rice Table

Su Scott

Quadrille                         pp238                                 £27

Perhaps strangely, given that it relates to a cuisine as far flung as you can get, this book is more approachable. Its subtitle is Korean recipes + stories to feed the soul. The author, Su Scott, came to London from Seoul in her late teens. Her desire to assimilate herself into British culture saw her drift away from her roots. At low moments this led to real feelings of homelessness. The birth of her daughter was an epiphany. There is a Korean saying that when a child is born, the mother is also born.

Su set out to rediscover her culinary heritage, and takes us with her on the journey. The book is as personal as the previous one, but we are fellow travellers, not just bystanders. Sensibly recognising that we may know nothing of Korean food, she begins with a good run through of the basic ingredients. Many are already familiar because of their adoption by top British chefs. Dean Banks, for example, cited gochujang as his favourite ingredient in his Chef Watch interview. You can find a surprising amount in basic supermarkets and, in a city at least, you're never far from an Asian one.

Be warned, the family story is a sad and moving one. But we, the readers, are fortunate indeed to have this body of recipes. They may have sprung from Su's family memories, but there is enough here to delight everyone's tastebuds.


Kristina Nemčkovà

Karas s.r.o.                         pp285                    £?

Well, don't blame me for my dodgy cooking. It's because I'm grannyless. One died when I was three, the other when I was seven, long before any culinary ambitions had started to develop.

This book is proof that it's not just in Italy that we have the power of the nonna. Author Kristina Nemčkovà owes everything to her babička (grandmother) Pavlina. Kristina won Masterchef in the Czech Republic at the ludicrous age of 17. Much of her work was based on family recipes. Now, the two have combined to produce this unique cook book.

It would be fair to say that, in general, Czech is not one of the world's leading cuisines. I suspect, however, that you might not think that had you had the pleasure of eating Granny Pavlina's food. We can all have our views on the Masterchef format. One thing is clear - you won't win it with homespun food, however good.

Many pieces of genius involve very simple ideas. This book is one such. Dishes are given in pairs. The traditional recipe from Pavlina is followed by Kristina's take on it. Her upgrade, hence the title.

I was gifted Upgrade by my grandson's Czech grandparents. It is in English, but I don't know where you would get a copy. It's not on Mr Bezos's list yet. But keep your eyes open, and pay attention to Tom Cooks! We'll certainly be trying out some of the ideas - both from Kristina and Pavlina.

Just discovered that A, esteemed contributor to this column, got married very quietly last week to our friend K. Congratulations and best wishes to the newlyweds.

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