How to Eat a PeachMenus, Stories and Places
By Diana Henry
You know the wonderful thin layer of fuzz on a peach skin? That textural fur that tells you instantly what kind of fruit you’re holding? Well the marketing department at publishing house Mitchell Beazley need to be given an award because they went and emulated that sensation on this book cover and it’s effect is superbly comforting. It transports you to that moment of piqued joy when you hold the summer stone fruit, working it around in your hands as you decide whether the stone should be carved away from the flesh, or you just dive in for a bite and slowly work around it. But then again that’s what Diana Henry’s book ‘How to Eat a Peach‘ is all about: transportation. Transportation in that first fuzzy textile sensation, in the way she describes a young Diana standing out the front of Clarke’s restaurant in London to read the menu (but rarely affording to eat there), or the first time she hosted when, bemused by the quantity of candles deployed, she was questioned by her young guests if they had not in fact gone to a Church mass instead of dinner.
The book is set out into two seasonal sections (Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter) and within each half are menus that have been carefully designed to flow and complement. As Diana says:
“Menus aren’t just groups of dishes that have to work on a practical level (meals that cooks can manage), they also have to work as a succession of flavours.”
Maybe it was this that helped guide the recipe choices because most are not complicated. Indeed the recipe from which the title was inspired is a dessert that simply instructs the cook to submerge thick slices of white peach in chilled Moscato and serve (delicious!). While some require time (the aperitif agenais needs a month for the flavours to mature), for the most part these are all recipes that could be cooked in a home kitchen with the standard set of equipment and some basic understanding of cooking.
There has been some discussion online recently about the popular format of a narrative preceding a recipe. Some commentators enjoy the background while others just want the recipe. It should be noted that this is a book brimming with tales. This may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s possible to skip them and head straight to the recipes. I’d implore you not to though; they offer context and a sense of purpose. I read the book like a novel before I cooked anything from it and would encourage everyone to do the same.
Diana has done a lot of cooking and she should be trusted when it comes to the recipes in this book. I have to admit to being somewhat alarmed at the amount of syrup that I was to pour on the gooseberry & almond cake but my golden rule is to always follow the recipe exactly the first time around and note anything I would do differently next time. My copy now has a scribbling next to the cake which simply says “lots of syrup, but use it”. This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t change a thing. That same menu has a recipe for asparagus dolloped with a pistachio pesto. It’s a delightful starter but you end up with enough pistachio pesto to see you through a few days of eating (although it was easy enough to find uses for).
The styling here also works. The front cover image offers a sample of what lies inside – a montage of late-afternoon, dappled sun-light imagery where crinkled linen tablecloths are strewn casually on tables. The story is one where the guests, the food, the servingware (I’m even going to preemptively add the conversation that would ensue) are harmoniously balanced. Pure zen. This book is one I’ll keep cooking from (and reading) for many years to come.