Sometimes I look at the books about food and cooking that fill my shelves, and, knowing that they represent quite a small percentage of the vast number of volumes that have passed through my hands I ask myself why I chose to keep these few. Some, it is true, are recipe books, in the sense of being a list of recipes, ingredients, methods, divided into chapters on soups, meats, desserts etc. But in many the recipes are almost subservient to wonderful and passionate writing about food and colour and love. The secret inner adventure of planning a meal; the breath-quickening sashay through the aisles, eyes darting, mouth dry with hopeful anticipation; the moment when, cleaver in hand, the first downstroke of the preparation begins, like the start of a symphony. The whir and buzz and sizzle and blast of the cooking process that take me to a happy place of concentration where I only realise how long I have been standing on my feet when they start to protest. It’s lovely that other people enjoy what I have cooked; it’s wonderful to have that warm feeling of friends around a table with clinking glasses. I just hope they have got half as much out it as me, and the books that conjure these feelings are the ones I keep.
Jake Tilson’s book A Tale of 12 Kitchens. Family Cooking in Four Countries stokes the fires of an intense personal cooking experience like nothing I have read for ages. It is a book I didn’t want to reach the end of. Everything that we imagine in our culinary hearts is in this book. Everything that we remember from our youth, from our travels, from the clippings we hoard and the postcards friends send us, from celebrations, mistakes and triumphs, from the untried and the totally familiar.
Tilson is an artist and graphic designer; his wife is a ceramicist; his parents are artists. His life has been teeth-grindingly jealousy inducing – childhood surrounded by the artistic cream of a generation, a rambling country house with home produced beer and later regular trips to
This book is a feast for the memory and the imagination and also for the eyes. Generously and impeccably illustrated by the author, even the typefaces and fonts are his own. (Some people give their publishers a manuscript; Tilson gave his publishers a Quark file.) And while the memories are undeniably his own, some of mine and some of yours are in there too somehow.
A Tale of 12 Kitchens. Family Cooking in Four Countries by Jake Tilson
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson