Poland and Italy lovingly recollected in recipes

-Made in Sicily: Food and Stories
By Giorgio Locatelli, £30

-Rose Petal Jam: Recipes and Stories from a Summer in Poland
By Beata Zatorska and Simon Target, £25

FOOD writing has evolved into the porn of the book world – a look at how printed cookbooks are drastically bucking the trend of declining book sales shows as much. That and the glossy, take-me pictures that form the bulk of any successful cookbook these days.

As well as straightforward cookbooks from star chefs, the market is saturated with culinary memoirs. There are great ones – Tessa Kiros’s Falling Cloudberries comes to mind – and there are ones that have simply capitalised on this trend. However, there are two that stand out for me this year.

The first is Rose Petal Jam: Recipes and Stories from a Summer in Poland written by family doctor, Beata Zatorska, who leaves Sydney to return to Poland in search of family history and recipes.

Beata had me from recipe number one: her grandmother’s rose petal jam. Its simplicity (the jam is made with just sugar and rose petals), is part of the book’s attractiveness. The recipes themselves are a peek into her childhood spent in Poland, and the pages are peppered with faded daguerreotypes of relatives and her grandmother Józefa. Essentially, we’re following a reclaiming of a culture she was once part of, and the story is told through recipes. Beata’s achievement is that this book avoids temptation to stray into cloying nostalgia, and is a humble celebration of a country too often associated with borsht and barrenness.

Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Sicily is less of a nostalgic moodboard dedicated to his love of the island, and more of an homage to the joys of the ingredients it provides. A nice example is his treatment of the relationship between the island and the olive tree, which provides “liquid gold” – the olive oil that provides the base for so many of his dishes. He writes as only an Italian can write about his country, but as a non-native, with the eyes of a discoverer. His writing is lucid, and recipes, simple. Spaghetti with cuttlefish ink is simple splendour. Blood orange jelly is un-cheffy and easy to make. His unusual chapter on couscous and soup (“make couscous not war” is the opening quote) is a fascinating nod to the island’s history of journeying Arabs, and though it would have been good to see more meat in the chapter of the same name, what’s there (kid goat with anchovies, rosemary and lemon) is mouthwatering enough. The rustic heat of Sicily erupts through the pictures of everyday life and descriptions that will make you want to book a ticket to the island and relive summer.

The joy of both books is their artlessness and lack of gloss. Their discovery becomes our discovery and we journey with them through their food. The Polish and Sicilian tourist board couldn’t have done a better job, even if they tried.

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April 23, 2014, 2:03am
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