What’s the USP? A month-by-month guide to the culinary year, exploring seasonal produce and timely dishes with contributions from a wealth of chefs, writers and other folk with high-functioning tongues. This is the second edition of The Food Almanac, which suggests an earnest effort by publisher Pavilion to make this, if not an annual event (volume one was published two years earlier in 2020) then at least a regular one.
Who wrote it? A picnic basketful of names are involved, though once again the central voice is that of Miranda York. Though York has been a key figure in food and culture writing for a short while now, last year’s inaugural almanac was her first book. As with that edition, this volume draws on a range of voices of varying levels of familiarity. There are entries by Diana Henry and the currently inescapable Jeremy Lee, as well as Rachel Roddy and Olia Hercules. Some of the book’s most enchanting moments come from less established names: Nina Mingya Powles, author of meditative food memoir Tiny Moons, offers up a delightful recipe-as-poem in November.
Is it good bedtime reading? Once a month, for a night or two, The Food Almanac will offer absolutely perfect bedtime reading – at once uniformly thoughtful and exquisitely varied. In each chapter the reader can explore a choice selection of seasonal offerings. An introduction by York that focuses on a specific ingredient, a deeper dive that expands on cultural context, or offers another perspective and a matching recipe. There’ll be a further section or two that might take the form of a guide to the ‘Easter Buns of Europe’, or a collection of ideas for warming tonics for a cold January day. Perhaps you’ll have a short personal essay to follow, before a three-part menu for the month, each curated by a different food writer (Ravneet Gill’s menu for July focuses on seasonal fruits; a month earlier, Nik Sharma presents us with Indian-influenced dishes, including a subtle but delicious Spiced Pea Soup that I couldn’t resist making half a year early).
How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Curated and edited with every bit as much care as the rest of the book, each recipe is presented with clarity and precision. The joy of a collaborative title like this is the sheer variety of approaches to cooking on display – but York reigns everything in to ensure consistency amidst the cornucopia of ideas.
Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Most dishes are bracingly straight-forward, and based on seasonal ingredients. If you are seeking to source these in the allotted months (or a few weeks either side) you’ll mostly be in luck. Of course, our supermarkets are experts in allowing us year-round access to most fresh produce, so you’ll rarely struggle if you do want to attempt a summer dish in the depths of winter.
That said, occasionally the almanac may tempt you with something a little more difficult to source. Much is made in September of sea buckthorn – a forager’s delight that will be out of reach for many across the UK.
How often will I cook from the book? You would hope at least once a month, but then, that isn’t really the point of The Food Almanac. If you decide to try out one of the five or so dishes on offer in each chapter, you’ll likely find joy on every occasion. But if you instead take the time simply to enjoy the wonderful food writing and spend a little longer thinking about the month’s seasonal offerings, the book will have been well worth the purchase.
Killer recipes: Solyanka, Braeburn Eve’s Pudding with Calvados, Wild Garlic and Prawn Noodles, Sambal Bajak, Strawberry Popcorn Knickerbocker Glory, Mexican Flans with Mezcal Raspberries, Salt Mallard and Pickled Prunes, Deep-Fried Sprout Tonnato with Crispy Capers
Should I buy it? Oh, goodness, yes. The Food Almanac is an opportunity to look at the gastronomical year through the eyes of some of our best food writers, offering a chance to rediscover the seasonality of our homegrown produce in the age of supermarket ubiquity. It’s an absolute joy, and only the strongest-willed amongst us will be able to resist skipping ahead and gobbling it all up in just a few sittings.
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
Buy this book: The Food Almanac: Volume II by Miranda York
£22, Pavilion Books
Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas