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Supper for a Song, Tamasin Day-Lewis

I wasn’t going to read this book, being acquainted with Ms Day-Lewis’s writing of yore for the Sunday supplements. In my mind I hear a hectoring, strident voice, talking about the fashionable issues: organic, sustainable, seasonal, Aga, farmhouse kitchen; listen to her Amazon video if you’d like to hear exactly what nightmare runs in my mind. Most of the other reviews talk about what “for a song” means to a woman of privilege, where economy means doing your own shopping in Harrod’s/Fortnum’s, and not sending the help out to do it.

It’s true that the principle of economy is spoiled by the little additions. It also seems that the book came up a little short, and a number of the recipes were flung together out of the larder and pantry at the last minute, and further supplemented by a few luxury recipes rather than parsimonious ones. Her simple tea bread is jazzed up with Earl Grey tea and Fortnum and Mason’s mixed dried fruits, but is otherwise identical to Mary Berry’s Bara Brith recipe. But she does start with the classic “how to get three meals out of a roast chicken”, and has a fair swathe of ways to use up left-over mashed potatoes.

This isn’t a book for people lacking kitchen skills: some of the recipes are complex: take a look at the bay, honey and lemon cake, for example; and you need to know how to prepare cake tins and make a cartouche. But she name checks the right people: Elizabeth David and Anna Del Conte, and comes up with authentic seeming Italian recipe pastiches. The photographs are mostly of the actually recipe mixtures (this isn’t as common as you might hope), although I did spot a couple of discrepancies, like a cake using what seemed to be fresh dates when the recipes calls for medjool dates.

I’ve cooked a few of these recipes in the past couple of days, and I am impressed by her combinations of flavours; not just on the page, but how they work out in practice. The sausage and mustard casserole with cabbage and chestnuts, for instance, works out to be rather more subtle than the blow with a sledge hammer that it reads as. Time and time again she uses chestnuts, chocolate, chick peas, ground almonds, chilis and the aforementioned mashed potatoes – some of my favourite things (ok, not the mash!).

Approach this book as a collection themed with an international peasant background, with a sure touch for flavour combinations, and you won’t be disappointed. If you do this, it’s probably a good idea to ignore the recipe introductions, and stick to the heart of the book, the recipes, instead. A proper table of contents would have been a good idea, too.

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