Claudia Roden brings Spain to Wanstead:
When my friend mentioned that her sister, who runs Newham Book Shop, had invited Claudia Roden to talk about her latest book ‘the Food of Spain’ and then asked if I’d like to come along, I was thrilled. Despite the fact that the event was being held in Wanstead…on the wrong side of London. I have a few ‘childhood culinary heroines’ and Claudia is one of them, along with Elizabeth David and, to a lesser extent Jane Grigson and Katie Stewart. What sets their writing apart for me is that not only do the recipes work, but they are written in the context of the culinary and cultural heritage in which the recipes belong. Having spent several summers in my teens living with a French family I first came across Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking and found an immediate connection with the lifestyle and food I had enjoyed and her writing. My parents travelled extensively in the Middle East, living in Libya, Saudia Arabia and Qatar. So, Claudia’s Middle Eastern Food book was also special to me, while both Jane Grigson and Katie Stewart represented the Best of British!
Claudia proved to be an engaging and vibrant lady who belies her age. She was charming in an unexpected way for me, telling us how she’d been frightened of travelling alone to Spain and providing some real insights into the people she’d met and the experiences she’d valued. And, really bringing her book about Spanish food to life. Like all her writing this book combines the cultural and culinary heritage of the areas she is visiting with recipes and in the case of this particular publication, great photography and charming illustrations too.
I am sure everyone has their own reason for loving Claudia’s writing. For me it is that it sparks both my memory and my imagination. My first trip to Spain was a driving tour. We started in Madrid and then visited towns and cities like Segovia, Salamanca, Avila and Cuenca. And, despite going with a vegetarian friend, I managed to feast on some excellent suckling pig. According to Claudia ‘Cochinillo Asado is ‘the most exquisite and aristocratic of foods’. She goes on to explain that ‘in the past people brought their little pigs in a clay dish to be roasted in the communal wood burning baker’s oven.’ And then gives a recipe that you could, if you dared, try to make at home! It is enough for me to read her vivid description and remember the melting dishes of meat I enjoyed when I was in Segovia. Please forgive me this little diversion which aims to provide a personal illustration of what I believe makes her writing special
As you can tell, I like the book. It is more than just a recipe book, it is a collection of food experiences that bring back to life places I have visited and foods I have eaten. Where there is a recipe, it is clear and beautifully detailed. Sometimes there is a story, sometimes just a little background. There is a section on techniques, one on utensils and one on ingredients. Since I have a signed edition I am not entirely sure how much I will want to use it to cook. But I do know I will read it and re-read it!