I’m still working my way through that stack of lost and found Christmas gift cookbooks; this one may be the best of the bunch so far. I think I may have found my next baking project book, as soon as I finish the last few recipes in the one I started at the end of last summer. Oats in the North Wheat from the South looks pretty interesting and mostly doable, two very good qualities in a baking book.
I’ve seen plenty of people be annoyed by the amount of mini-essay that can appear with a recipe in a lot of cookbooks. To some extent I agree that I don’t need your whole life story, just gimme the recipe. However, in the case of this book, that mini-essay is actually the historical background of the origins and meaning of a given recipe, and to my academic nerdy self, that’s fascinating stuff. The recipes are mostly traditional English (the South) and Scottish (the North), so there is plenty of recognizable items, like swiss roll, simnel cake, Bakewell tarts, and scones of various sorts. But there’s also the interesting stuff I’ve never heard of like the Pikelet (related to the crumpet but with a different preparation method) or the Cornish fairing (basically a type of gingerbread cookie) or the Yum-yum (basically, a Scottish fried donut).
Seriously though, the history stuff is there and it’s interesting. About two weeks ago, I made hot cross buns for the first time using a Paul Hollywood recipe; I slightly overbaked them but they were fine. The recipe here is pretty similar, but the spices are a bit different and there is a lot of well-research historical background. Apparently in the 8th century the Venerable Bede (famous English monk) located these buns back to the pagan Saxons and their goddess Eostre (I didn’t know this may be where we get the label ‘Easter’), and that these buns were often among the exemptions to prohibitions of things like certain spices, and that there are even some secular superstitions attached to them.
There’s also plenty of cultural background too, for example before the several scone recipes, there is a full page detailing the rules and process of “The perfect afternoon tea” ritual which supposed dates back to the mid nineteenth century; I was a little surprised it wasn’t at least a little older.