Cookbooks, eh? There are seemingly more of them being published by the day than you can shake a wooden spoon at. Whoever said print media was dead?
For any aspiring author, however, this means that it’s harder than ever to get your book noticed. To make any headway, you need to bring something fresh to the mix.
The author of Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking, Signe Johansen, has done just that, and has written the book that everyone is currently clamouring to buy. Why? Quite simply because she’s articulate, informed, sparky, humorous, endearingly self-effacing, and – hoorah! – she writes fantastically attractive and accessible recipes. Put those ingredients together for a cookbook, and you have everything you need and more for a bestseller. Saltyard Books (an offshoot of Hodder and Stoughton) must be hugging themselves – a new publishing and meeja star is theirs.
Thanks largely to Noma, and other, now highly acclaimed Scandi chefs, Scandinavian food is of course no longer a suspiciously fishy novelty in the UK. In London, eateries such as Texture, Madsen, and the Scandinavian Kitchen, have also been doing their bit to further the cause of Nordic cooking.
But in my view, there’s been no cookbook to date that reflects the best of all that Scandinavia has to offer. Maybe it’s just me, but those that have gone before have come across a tad austere, a little too ‘clean living’ and hair-shirted for me to truly warm to them.
And therein lies a clue to the critical factors responsible for the success of Scandilicious. It’s warm, engaging, generous, and indulgent. It’s packed with recipes for food that you really, really want to eat. (Examples? To list but a scant handful: banana, coconut and chocolate milkshake; cinnamon and chestnut bread; Jarlsberg and fennel muffins; blackberry, almond, and cardamom cake; Daim cake; lemony choux buns; anchovy and potato gratin; Bergen fish chowder; evening pancakes; Norwegian cheesecake with tipsy strawberries.... need I go on?)
Scandilicious is big on home-style Scandi cooking, as influenced by Signe’s childhood and lessons learned at both her grandmothers' apron strings. In short, it appeals to the big-kid-who-likes-licking-the-bowl in all of us. (And yes, there is an entire slaver-inducing chapter on 'Afternoon Cake'.) Unreserved gluttonous enjoyment and comfort therefore abound: cream, cheese, chocolate, alcohol - they're all here in gleeful dollops (to the extent that Signe's Scandi version of macaroni cheese should probably come with a health warning), along with a great deal else.
But there is far more to Signe than home cooking – not least a Leith’s diploma, a stint at the Fat Duck, and significant contributions to other recipe books, to mention just a few strings to her rather full bow. An enviably impressive skills set underpins her recipes, not to mention rigorous attention to detail and a real desire to bring the joy and diversity of Scandinavian food (if you think it's all meatballs, berries, and gravlaks - think again) to the UK public. You won’t find flights of fancy here – just straightforward, reliable formulas, together with a wealth of genuinely explanatory hints and tips, for stupendously delicious nosh. And that’s precisely what makes it such a cracking cookbook.
Thankfully, Saltyard Books have given this publication the red-carpet treatment it warrants. It’s beautifully produced, and replete with sumptuous photographs throughout. It’s the kind of book that would look great on a coffee table – but frankly, that would be a travesty (unless, of course, you buy two copies – one for looking gorgeous in your living room, and one for the kitchen). This is a recipe book you’ll love to use daily, from breakfast through to supper, and through all the seasons.
There is so much more I could say, but I realise I’m in danger of gushing, so just get the book and see for yourself. If you regret your purchase, I’ll eat my herring.
I understand that Scandilicious Book 2 is already in the pipeline. Watch this space for much, much more to come. For in Signe Johansen, Saltyard Books have found a brilliant original and authentic voice, and Scandinavian food has found itself a dynamic and impassioned ambassador. And, most importantly, cooks everywhere have found a new friend.
With thanks to Saltyard Books for a review copy of Scandilicious.