I am a big fan of Charlotte Wood's unique cookbook/essay collection/memoir Love and Hunger.
One of the books that Charlotte mentions admiringly is Gay Bilson's groundbreaking 2004 book, Plenty.
This is a book that is almost impossible to categorise, an exquisitely
beautiful object in its own right that ranges across so many genres that
I dare not attempt to pigeonhole it. Suffice to say it is a reflection
on a lifelong love of food, its preparation and its eating, and it is a
book I turn to regularly.
Plenty is filled with love and warmth, reflecting Bilson,
one of Australia's most legendary restaurateurs, and her homely
philosophy. Whether it's making custard, serving an omelette or
discussing celebrity chefs, Bilson's take is unique and tempered by a
genuine understanding of the importance of food and its appreciation at
an emotional, intellectual and even spiritual level.
It's funny, but when I first read Plenty,
back when it was first released, I was in much the same conflicted
reltaionship with food and its preparation that I was when I first read Charlotte's
book. I think some of us need reminding that food is not an
enemy, but nor should it be a fetish. It is a necessity, a field in
which we can exercise love, compassion and a genuine creativity. Bilson
reminds us of the grand and peculiar Western engagement with food and
its preparation, reflecting that such a relationship does not come
easily to Anglo-Saxon culture, leaving us reliant on a series of
historical "experts" like Elizabeth David to give us permission to enjoy the acts of cooking and eating.
I have been inspired in re-reading, too, to be slightly more
eccentric, like the wonderful cast of friends and inspirations that
Bilson writes about in her beautiful book. People who send birds' nests
through the mail and quibble over the consistency of apple jellies. And I
have resolved, once again, to delight in the simplest of things, in
cauliflower and tripe and braised ox tongue and things that have been
forgotten in our quest to impose glamour upon cooking.
Plenty makes the perfect companion to Love and Hunger,
and I urge you to seek out a copy. Whether you love simple food or fine
dining, you will be catered for in this wonderfully eccentric and
constantly fascinting book about food, cooking, literature and life.
32 minutes ago