This is the time of year that we go a little quiet, we are all keeping our heads down as we shop. Part of that shopping experience is trying to guess what our loved ones want. Buying for wives can be a notorious minefield of clothes that are too small, bras that are too big and lingerie that they will never wear, not at Christmas and certainly not for your birthday. They say diamonds are a girl's best friend but at Pig Row if we found a diamond mine in the back garden we'd probably spend it on the land, the food, the kitchen and of course, recipe books. Here's five books that will be in Carol's stocking this Christmas and there may be something here for the woman in your life.
Biscuit by Miranda Gore Browne of Great British Bake Off fame wades into the sweet aisle of recipes. Now, I am a red blooded man, but biscuits are my weakness and I suspect a good biscuit will send anyone weak at the knees but what's in this book for the female Goddess in the kitchen? There is everything here from biscuit for beginners to the decoration of biscuits. I never knew that biscuits could be decorated, I assumed a good dunk in chocolate was the height of biscuit design as it blended two of the food groups into one. Miranda's book is a no nonsense affair and one can't help but feel that more images would have made the book more sumptuous. Maybe, I am alone with this but a good recipe book should brim with photos of what you aspire to bake. Your creation may never look like the photograph but at least you have a bar set for you to aim for or at this time of year collapse below in a giggling heap holding a drink. This aside, the recipes were easy to follow and took you step by step. The Coconut jammy thumbprint took me back to my childhood. The seasonal biscuit chapter is where the book really comes into its own from Lemon and almond knots to the fat apple rascals. Miranda certainly shows a passion and knowledge of biscuits that many of us never know, if you want to push the biscuit frontier than this is a great stocking filler and if your height of biscuit tastes is a bourbon then this book will simply blow your mind.
Salt sugar smoke: how to preserve fruit, vegetables, meat and fish by Diana Henry is right up Pig Row's street. It is a delicious, well designed book, a pleasure to open and it looks lovely just on a table. That is part and parcel of a good recipe book, the desire to open it when you see it on your friend's kitchen table. Where this book may be different from other preserving books is Diana has pulled together techniques and recipes from differing cuisines, from England's fair and fruity jams to Persian pickled cherries. There is a taste of the practical here nestling beside the exotic. There are wonderful ideas for pickling turnips, the photo for this borders on the downright erotic and it just shows that vegetables we grow for winter, can still have a shelf life long after the snows have left town. The New York sweet cranberry mustard is on our recipe board to try with our home reared poultry next year. It's comforting to see that beside these recipes are traditional jams and fruit cheeses from medlar jelly to quince cheese. It is important that we show that these recipes are easy to make, easy to store and wonderful to eat. This is at the heart of the book and if you want to take that extra step to live seasonally, preserve the best of summer for winter than this is a truly inspirational and comforting book. There is something traditional here but Diana brings her wealth of knowledge to preserves many of us may never have heard of or tried. Anyone for Adobo?
You may know Angel Adoree from her pitch on BBC's Dragon's Den but since then she had been carving a sizable niche (more like a ravine) into the world of vintage. In Angel's new book, The Vintage Tea Party Year, you are faced again with one of those books you just can't help but pick up time after time. The great thing about this book is that Angel takes you step by step through twelve months of parties. There is no craft project here that won't get the inner vintage lady or chap in you stirring to throw your own vintage inspired Christmas. The great thing about Angel is that she doesn't just give you a few baubles to design, she gives you the entire package from invites that you can photocopy straight from the book, to a list of food that just gets the mouth watering, sausage roll wreath will have the man in your life bothering you in the kitchen for a taste (and while he's there you can make him wash up). The Hot Spiced Tea will give you that boost of Christmas spirit as will the seasonal bunting. Angel always creates jaw dropping design in her books, from the tactile cover to page after page of photographs that will inspire you, regardless of budget, to doing something a little different at your parties. This is the kind of book that gives you aspirations but also provides you with the skills to achieve them.
Back in Pig Row territory and we have another book that tackles preserves, baking, home remedies, cleaning solutions, beauty products, confectionary and petcare (though the latter seems a little odd to throw into the mix beside sweets). Homemade: learn to make your own everyday items is another book that suffers from lack of images. However, this is a good book and from Readers Digest. So, you really have a glut of information, recipes and tips to fill volumes. This book still weighs in at 400 pages but open the book on any page and there is something to peak your interest: Melon Ginger Jam, Beer Bread, Chocolate-Nut Frozen Bananas, Gumdrops, Citus Disenfectant, Ant traps and Antifungal Compost Tea. This is a book for anyone interested in running their home in a way that embraces make your own, mend your own and bake your own. It is a simple read, the recipes easy to tackle and I suspect the savings you would make over a year would make this a popular stocking filler.
The final stocking filler for the wife in your life is Sugar & Spice by Gatri Pagrach-Chandra. This is a glorious book, in the vein of the Diana Henry book, Gatri brings together over 120 easy to follow recipes from across the globe. This is the kind of book that you can curl up in bed with as Chatri shares her recipes with you. There is the English Madeleine and the Coconut Kisses that make the mouth water beside the Intense Chocolate Tarts and Moelleux which is now on our recipe board. The book throngs with photographs that set the bar high for the new cook but Gaitri's language is easy to read and she guides you step by step through each recipe. There are traditional recipes here beside new world discoveries that will get you into the kitchen this Christmas.
Pig Row received these books for free to review. Views expressed here are Pig Row's.