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If you disregard my penchant for reading Georgette Heyer and novels in which heroines are always rescued, men are honourable except for the baddie, and friendship is inevitably to hand, the more socially acceptable contents of my bookcase feature large doses of one central character: food. 

The Other Half despairs of improving my mind, and constantly attempts to develop my reading material, waving the latest Booker shortlist / Improving Books of 2011 list under my nose.  But I’m happy, lost in a world of a good cookbook to read or novel where food plays a major role. I love reading about ingredients I know nothing of, expanding my mind in all ways culinary.

I suspect the book which started my love affair with food and France was ‘A Year in Provence’, the famous account of an Englishman moving abroad by Peter Mayle. I was fascinated by the exoticism, the frogs’ legs, the concept of fresh bread every day.  Childhood holidays in France reinforced the magic, becoming to my mind forever sun-drenched, foodie heavens.  My parents assure me it rained, we really did stay at Le Hotel du Grot, and had bad meals. I don’t remember any of that!

One of my favourite novels a few years ago was ‘Blessed Are The Cheesemakers’, by Sarah Kate Lynch, all about the magical properties of cheese produced by one particular dairy in Ireland.  It had everything. Food, lovable rogues, a redeemed hero and heroine, secrets and magic.  I still want to taste the Coolarney Blue, the descriptions of which are enough to make your mouth water.  Sadly it never was made into a film (nor, so far as I’m aware, into an actual cheese) so I’ll have to add some of her other novels to my Amazon wishlist.  And add my desire to try making soda bread to my culinary wishlist.

Even my first real Italian pizza, in Pisa at the age of 13, inspired years of reading about Italian cooking.  Stumbling across the first book by Annie Hawes, ‘Extra Virgin’, provided me with many happy hours of dreaming about living in Italy. Her writing inspired me to try regional Italian cooking, and her passion about Liguria contributed to the rationale behind a holiday in provincial northern Italy.  From there I have followed a trail to Anna del Conte, Elizabeth David and Julia Child, and back to modern chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigella Lawson, and Tamsin Day-Lewis.  I love the energy and vibrancy with which those who are passionate about food write.  Sometimes I’m almost tempted to lick the page, the description is so vivid.

It has to be said I’ve never been inspired to cook a recipe from a Georgette novel though.  I suspect this is a good thing, much as I love La Heyer. I’m not sure I’d be up for the challenge of a Davenport fowl.  If I tried to lick that page I’m fairly sure I’d be revolted.  It’s a good job the novels are mine, and don’t belong to the library. I’d be ostracised, forever doomed to being closely watched if I loitered for too long in the fiction section. On the other hand, if I ever get a bit nibbly munchy, with nothing in the house, there’s always the sauce splashed pages of my cookbooks. Now there’s an idea if I can’t be bothered to cook of an evening…