Book Review: Salt Sugar Smoke

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A few weeks ago I was thrilled to receive a copy of Diana Henry’s new book Salt Sugar Smoke from her publisher.

This comprehensive guide to preserving fruit, vegetables, meat and fish, combines Diana’s charming narrative style with an exciting range of recipes, and wholeheartedly deserves a place on even the most crowded of kitchen shelves.

Whilst preserving is no longer the necessity that it once was, Diana feels that its appeal has endured thanks to the intensity of flavour achieved, and the sense of well-being and pride that comes from making things and sharing them with people.

“One of the constituents of a good life is the ability to find pleasure in the small things. A good jam for your toast in the morning. A chutney that is made from the apples that you gathered last autumn. Cutting salt beef that you’ve made yourself and can feed a dozen friends.” 

Reading through the recipes, you also begin to realise how a little effort to use up a glut of vegetables from the garden, or a punnet of fruit going cheap at the greengrocers can go a long way towards helping to make our busy lives easier. An array of chutneys, jams and sauces are the home cook’s secret weapon, elevating simple everyday dishes, puddings or cakes into something unexpectedly delicious with minimal fuss.

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As with her previous books, Diana continues to be influenced by a host of cuisines. From the familiar jams of home, to more unusual recipes such as Middle Eastern cordials, Asian pickles and hot-smoked fish, the book evokes a sense of culinary adventure on every page.

The recipes may be exotic in parts, but those intimidated by the prospect of preserving will be reassured to know that the equipment needed to make them is distinctly ordinary, even for such techniques as smoking. In addition, the quantities given are, by and large, for fairly small batches, making them manageable rather than industrial-scale. Each chapter begins with an insightful introduction that provides both fascinating background and essential advice to guide you through.

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I’ve made one recipe so far: the quince and star anise jelly. The process is unusual in that the fruit is strained overnight twice, but it was relatively simple otherwise. The only challenge was tracking down the fruit in the first place. Quinces are surprisingly elusive, unless you happen to live near a Middle Eastern grocer or grow your own. In the end a supremely helpful local greengrocer offered to have a look at the market for me the next day and came up trumps with a tray of them.

The end result is like autumn in a jar; a bewitching jewel-like amber colour and a beautiful combination of smoky and sweet flavours that would complement a simple lunch of cheese and bread as much as they would a roast duck.

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