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The Meditative Pleasures of Cold Weather Cooking

By Marsha Fottler.

Even if I didn’t love to cook and to savor new recipes, I’d still buy Diana Henry’s book Roast Figs Sugar Snow just for the sheer romance of the title. It’s completely poetic and evocative of “winter food to warm the soul,” which is her subtitle and the intent of the recipes she chose for this book.

There’s a private meditative calm about preparing ingredients and cooking winter recipes in a cozy kitchen and Henry has captured that mood with a series of essays about global winter foods based on five years of travel, cooking and eating in Europe and America. Every recipe is one you want to try from Onion and Cider Soup with Melting Camembert to Snow Cookies to Roast Squash Salad with Lentils to Swedish Thursday Soup (split pea and ham) to Roast Goose with Brandied Figs.

The recipe directions are nicely organized with all the ingredients down the left hand column and the instructions on the right. Sadly, in this book as in nearly all that cross my desk lately, there are typographical errors that should have been caught before publication. Such carelessness seems endemic but it’s particularly worrisome in books about cooking where mistakes in writing can lead to disasters in a kitchen. No errors in this book reach disaster level.

Besides Henry’s essay on each type of winter food group, there are lovely passages from writers and poets such as Laura Ingalls Wilder, Ann Tyler, Sybelle Bedford, D.H. Lawrence, William Carlos Williams and Robert Frost among others.

The author (a food columnist for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper) lives in England, but grew up in Northern Ireland. She demonstrates a wide-ranging palate as well as intellectual curiosity about terrain, cultures and the recipes that emerge from both. The soft cover book of just under 200 pages is gorgeously enhanced with winter scenes and enticing photographs of completed recipes by Jason Lowe. His work is as much a lovely long tone poem to winter foods as Henry’s writing. Here’s a recipe from Roast Figs Sugar Snow that I made because I fell in love with the title.

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Peasant Girls In A Mist
(serves 4-6)

“The name of this old-fashioned dessert, which both Norway and Denmark lay claim to, always makes me think of Scandinavian children out gathering apples in their aprons. It’s also known at Veiled Farm Girls and Peasant Girls in a Veil; I suppose the veil and mist both refer to the blanket of cream,” Diana Henry.

2 large cooking apples
3 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 ½ ounces wheat and rye bread, pulsed into breadcrumbs
¼ cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
4 tablespoons confectioners sugar
really good squeeze lemon
1 ½ tablespoons toasted hazelnuts, very roughly chopped

Peel and core apples and cut into chunks. Put them a saucepan with the superfine sugar and 2 tablespoons water and cook over a gentle heat until they are completely tender. Stir every so often and mash the fruit down roughly with the back of a wooden spoon. Check for sweetness, I prefer it not too sweet as it is being mixed with sweet cream and breadcrumbs. Put into a bowl to cool.

Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the breadcrumbs and the brown sugar. Saute, stirring constantly, over a medium heat until the breadcrumbs are golden. Add the cinnamon and continue to cook for about a minute. Leave to cool.

Whip the cream, adding the confectioners sugar and squeeze of lemon, then layer the stewed apples, breadcrumbs and whipped cream mixture in a glass bowl, ending with a layer of cream. Scatter with the chopped hazelnuts.

(Roast Figs Sugar Snow by Diana Henry. Octopus Publishing, $19.99)
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Flavors and More Magazine – December 2009

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