What’s the USP? Less of a unique selling point, and more of an all-encompassing approach to the cookbook, Home Cookery Year is a 400 page, 200+ recipe doorstop tat seeks to offer seasonal ideas for every possible situation, from midweek dinners to elaborate dinner party feasts.
Who wrote it? Claire Thomson, who has made something of a habit of releasing practical, down-to-earth cookbooks over the past five years. Her first title focused on cooking for families, and last year saw her release New Kitchen Basics, which offered a wide range of recipes based around ten classic ingredients.
If you’ve come across her this year, though, chances are it will have been during lockdown. Her 2017 title The Art of the Larder is one of the most informative titles on store-cupboard cooking available, and likely saw a healthy boost to sales around the tail end of March. It’s also the book that first introduced me to Thomson – albeit one that I didn’t enjoy as much as I’d expected to. Rather than re-invigorate the store-cupboard, it frequently reminded me of how drab tins and dried pulses can be. With that in mind, I find myself approaching this new book rather tentatively. Thomson has been inspired, she says, by the ‘evergreen’ cookbooks her mother had (‘and still has’) on her shelves. Paired with a title that Thomson herself admits is more honest than fashionable, I’m ready for a collection of practical, if dull, recipes.
This is heading for a delightful twist, isn’t it? Oh, you know me so well. The book’s an absolute bloody delight. Thomson’s straight-forward approach and practical application of her expertise means that from the outset, tHome Cookery Year is a joy to navigate. Though she has aspirations towards the simple, accessible and everyday cooking of all your mum’s favourite TV chefs of the 70s, her taste buds are firmly of the moment. This is an old-fashioned cookbook in spirit only.
Home Cookery Year is set out seasonally, with a chonker of a chapter for each season. These are split further, to allow the reader to find recipes that fit the bill whether they’re looking for a quick midweek supper, a budget meal from the larder, something a little more luxurious, and so on.
What’s the faff factor? Everything in the book is built towards accessibility. With a few (very rare) exceptions, you’ll be able to get all the ingredients from your local supermarket. Thomson’s recipes are straight-forward, even when they yield beautifully complex dishes and flavours. Even the recipes under the ‘leisurely weekend cooking’ headings are only listed as such because of the time they take, or the mess they’ll make.
How often will I cook from the book? Look, this is not something I get to say very often, but here goes: you could cook from this book every single day for a year and not get bored. The depth and variety within these pages is astonishing. Take Autumn, for example: the midweek offerings alone include comfort foods with a twist (Smoked Haddock with Curry Butter & Poached Egg), international staples (Goan Green Chicken, Nasi Goreng) and quick, simple recipes that are bound to impress anyone (Fig Leaf Pilaf with Aromatic Tomato Sauce & Toasted Almonds). The store cupboard dishes roam from an unctuous Cavolo Nero Polenta Soup to Sichuan classic Dan Dan Noodles.There are inspired takes on classic game recipes, simple yet irresistible desserts by the dozen and, most outrageously of all, a recipe for Duck and Damson Bao that is as good as anything I have in my healthy collection of far more specialised Chinese cookbooks. And that’s just Autumn.
Killer recipes: That Duck & Damson Bao, obviously. But also the Fried Potato Masala Toastie, or the Pasteis de Nata, which I am thrilled to finally have a decent recipe for. Or hey, how about the Crab Gnudi with Butter Baked Cherry Tomatoes & Tarragon. I put down the book and went to the other room to tell my wife about the Beer-brined BBQ Chicken with Mustard & Miso Mayonnaise Sauce. She was very understanding.
The desserts alone deserve a separate paragraph – the Cherry, Marshmallow & Dark Chocolate Chip Cobbler, the Peach & Dulce de Leche Cake, the Blackberry & Bay Brownies made with Rye. Look, there’s over 200 of these bad boys in here, and I honest-to-god reckon I’d eat every damn one of them.
Should I buy it? Oh god, like, twice over, at least. One for you, and one for anybody in your family who loves to cook. Because here’s the thing: with Christmas coming up faster than any of us are truly comfortable with, the bookshops are filled with brand new cookbooks vying for your attention. And this year, like every other, the big names like Nigella and Jamie are going to get the lion’s share of the sales.
Fun fact: I’ve worked in a bookshop at Christmas, and I’ve seen the absolute demolition of cookbook stock that happens on Christmas Eve. But the problem with gifting cookbooks is that you either have to go broad, which means celeb chefs, and the risk of giving your mum her third copy of the new Ottolenghi, or you need a deep insight into their personal tastes and their specific desire for a particular cuisine. This book lets you opt firmly for column A, whilst avoiding the obvious titles and throwing in some unexpected regional dishes to boot.
With Home Cookery Year, Claire Thomson has created exactly what she intended to: a five-star all-rounder that you will be using on a weekly basis for years to come. This is accessible, exciting cooking at its very finest, and though it’s up against bigger titles and starrier names, it might just be the best cookbook to give without discretion this Christmas.
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
Buy this book
Home Cookery Year: Four Seasons, Over 200 Recipes for All Possible Occasions
£30, Quadrille Publishing Ltd
Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Brighton-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas.