Love & Hunger by Charlotte Wood

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The sub-title of Love & Hunger by Charlotte Wood is Thoughts On the Gift of Food, and the words in this book are a gift to readers.

Love & Hunger is made up of chapters which tell stories about the author’s family and friends, and all sorts of funny, interesting and useful advice for living a gracious life. Each chapter is backed up by recipes.

The author is around about my age and Australian. Like Charlotte Wood, she grew up in a country town, so not surprisingly, I found a lot to identify with in her stories. There are stories about the most stylish woman in town, who gave the author’s father a plate of Hedgehog every year for his birthday, stories about communities rallying around families with food and love when needed, funny stories about old farmers who don’t eat fruit with their dinner (Hawaiian Chicken, Apricot Chicken and the like, all staples of the Australian family menu back in the day) and stories about wakes and dinner parties and holidays.

The useful advice is also good. I’ll be re-reading how to brine a chicken, followed by how to roast a chicken, two kitchen basics I have so far avoided. There is a lot of information dedicated to pulses and grains, which have become very fashionable in Australian kitchens over the past few years, and some excellent soup recipes.

There are recipes in this book which I am very unlikely to ever try. One example is the recipe for Pomegranate Honey. I love honey, to the point where I don’t believe it can be improved. I haven’t tasted pomegranate, but am very doubtful of whether its addition to my second favourite food can make it better or not (my favourite food is Granny Smith apples, in case anyone was wondering). I don’t think adding apples to honey (or vice versa) would improve either.

Another recipe I am unwilling to try is the one for Brussels Sprouts. Eww. I tried them once and they were bloody horrible. I agree with the author that the addition of bacon improves almost everything, but is the addition of the Brussels Sprouts going to improve the bacon? I doubt it.

Which makes me a hypocrite, according to the chapter about fussy eating. According to the author, we all have a moral obligation to our friends, families, workmates and everyone else we eat with not to be picky eaters, for the sake of good manners. Also, fussy eaters are apparently afraid of life. I like to think I have good manners and that I am brave enough to try different foods. I understand that my preference not to eat some foods, for example offal, is cultural rather than based on what the stuff actually tastes like. But if someone serves me Brussels Sprouts (or even worse, Broad Beans) I would probably prefer to offend them by saying, “No, thank you,” than by taking a mouthful of the disgusting things and then retching.

I enjoyed the chapter about surprises when eating. Heston Blumenthal’s Bacon and Egg Ice Cream doesn’t appeal to me, but I enjoyed reading the author’s experience of eating it (she loved it).

The chapter on essential ingredients was interesting, although completely different to my essential ingredients, which are obviously baking oriented.

That leads me to my only real complaint about this book, which is that the author doesn’t seem to have a sweet tooth. There are recipes for the afore-mentioned Hedgehog (which was in every Australian woman’s repertoire back in the 1970s) and for a Whole Orange Cake, but apart from a yoghurt-y thing, there were no more recipes using sugar.

Other than the lack of sweet recipes, I really enjoyed Love & Hunger by Charlotte Wood. This is a format which would work for family historians, as a way of passing down family stories and recipes to future generations. I’ve also had a look at the author’s blog, How to shuck an oyster, which is definitely worthy of a second look.

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