Whilst Julia isn't the first food blogger to get a book deal, she's one of the first in the UK and certainly the first that I know personally, so I couldn't help but feel especially delighted for her and eager to check out A Slice of Cherry Pie for myself.
Published by Absolute Press, a company with a great reputation for beautiful food titles, there's a clear focus on evoking the different seasons, and the way they affect mood and inspire one's cooking.
The book takes us through the year, season by season, chapter by chapter, with titles such as Cherry blossom, Sunshine and lemons, Pebbles and ice cream and Wood smoke and roasts; eight such chapters all together.
At the beginning of each is an introduction from Julia about what the season means to her - a mix of nostalgic memories and current cherished habits. I like the hand-written fragments from Julia's blog: "Blossom-filled trees, dipping with their heavy loads, flowers in full bloom peeking out from beneath cotton wool snow; how beautiful snow is in the springtime".
Here and there are excerpts from cherished books and poems such as Wuthering Heights, The Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh...
As readers of Julia's blog would expect, there are plenty of colour photographs throughout the book, beautifully styled images of the recipes themselves, intimate childhood snapshots from Julia's family album and some of Julia's own photographs too.
Design wise, for me, it's a mix. Most of it I like very much, such as the lace and aged parchment background to one recipe, the spiral bound notepad behind another and the textural peeling blue painted wall. Other design elements, I find less appealing, such as the photograph of a pumpkin chopped into a panel grid and other similarly retro design motifs. Of course, a retro look and feel was probably part of the intentional design brief, given the nostalgic nature of the book so chalk this up to personal taste!
I like food books that are a combination of recipes and personal memoir and Julia's book leans in that direction. I confess, I'd like even more of those personal passages; they give a deeper insight into the memories and feelings that have inspired Julia's cooking and make the book much more than a simple collection of recipes.
Recipe wise, Julia shares fairly simple dishes; the kind of food one cooks at home or might expect at a cosy little pub with a reputation for good home-cooking. For experienced cooks, there's probably not much that they won't already be familiar with or be able to create off the tops of their heads, but I think the simplicity of the recipes together with the straightforward, encouraging instructions will appeal a great deal to novice or less experienced cooks.
Recipes range from soups and salads to light bites and hearty mains to desserts, patisseries, sweets and biscuits.
I know I was not alone in asking, immediately I heard about the publishing deal, whether the book would contain a recipe for that eponymous cherry pie - the simple pleasure that sums up Julia's passion for hearty yet delicious cooking.
And of course, it does. Julia says in the introduction: "To be perfectly honest, I am not sure that any cherry pie can live up to the one in my head: the one with crumbly pastry and glossy, jammy cherries bursting with deep flavour; the one that tells stories of summertime and of family life around the kitchen table; the one that offers nourishment and love with every bite. So here I offer you just a humble pie, but one that makes me very happy. Eat a slice of it warm with vanilla ice cream and tell me the world isn't a better place."
I was sent my review copy of the book in the depths of a snowy winter, so cherry pie was the last thing on my mind. The recipe that appealed was a hearty dish Julia describes as a "rib-sticking pasta dish", the creamy sausage pasta.
Creamy Sausage Pasta
8 good quality pork sausages, eat cut into 6 pieces
1 large onion, halved and sliced
200 ml double cream
200 ml beef stock
2 sprigs thyme
300 grams dried pasta shapes, e.g. farfalle or fusilli
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan and brown the sausage pieces. When they're almost, but not quite, cooked through remove them from the pan. Next add the onion to the same pan which should now have some lovely, sticky brown bits left from the sausages, and fry them gently for fifteen minutes, until they are softened and lightly golden. Then turn the heat up high and cook the onions for a few minutes more until they turn darker golden brown.
- Return the sausages to the pan along with the cream, beef stock and thyme. Bring the cream and stock to the boil and season it with salt and black pepper, then simmer it until the sausages are cooked through and the sauce thickens, which will take about 20-25 minutes.
- While the sauce is simmering bring a large pan of salted water to the boil then add the pasta. Bring the water back up to the boil and cook the pasta according to the pack instructions, until al dente - soft on the outside but still a little firm in the middle. Drain the pasta.
- Check the seasoning in the sauce then add the pasta to it and mix it all together well before serving.
This is one of those dishes that is definitely more than the sum of it's parts. As Julia says in the recipe introduction, the creamy sauce takes on the flavour of the sausages and onions, coming together into a beautiful finished dish.
We've made it a couple of times and it's definitely joined our repertoire of simple, tasty suppers.
Unless you're planning on serving starters or dessert as well, I'd say this dish serves 3-4 rather than 4-6.
The instructions suggest adding the sprigs of thyme whole. We chose to strip the leaves from the sprigs first.
Whilst I use sea salt for recipes where it's sprinkled on at the end or retains it's crystalline form, for cooking I don't see the point, so we substituted ordinary table salt for the seasoning.
With thanks to Absolute Press for the review copy.
A Slice of Cherry Pie is currently available from Amazon for £11.87.