"I suspect that for most of us, there has been a point when toast has briefly been our best friend. Maybe we were broke, or busy, or drunk, or lonely, or in need of its crusty, buttery qualities. For many of us, who understand the real point of toast, it may just continue that way."
One of my very earliest reviews (very earliest=no one read it) on this here blog was of Nigel Slater's memoir, Toast, which I'd read because of the BBC adaptation of it that had been on that Christmas (it was really good.) There's not really any need to read it, but the point is that I really really liked basically everything about it- Nigel Slater is a really good writer, AND he likes to write about food, AND he can make you pretty much taste the foods he's talking about, AND if you ever met him, he'd probably cook them for you. It's just not right for him to have that much going for him, really.
In spite of my Slater-love, I hadn't heard of Eating for England until Ellie mentioned it in a post on... her most comforting books? Or something? I forget, but anyway, the point is that I read about it and HAD TO HAVE IT so I bought it and promptly didn't read it for about four months which actually isn't that long in my book life. Besides, I had to save it for summer because just look at the rock on the cover! Doesn't it make you want to go to the seaside RIGHT NOW? (Just me? Ok then...)
So, what it is. Eating for England is basically a collection of teeny weeny essays (most of them are around a page long) about all the foods that have found a home in England one way or another, and the idea for it originated when Slater was asked to describe British food on an American radio show and was stumped because, although we don't really have one specific food culture, there are a lot of foods we associate with home, I think. The time he was given on the radio show was clearly not enough, and so we get a book about it, which is just awesome.
Now, I really loved this book and found more than enough places to agree with Slater (marmite! Tunnock's teacakes! How much we all love chocolate!) but I can imagine that someone older than me would find even more points of agreement in this book and might even love it more than I did (which was, if I haven't made it clear yet, a LOT.) I always think that the best thing about Nigel Slater is how he can make you nostalgic about foods you might not even like that much and probably still can buy, and I don't know how he does it, but somehow you start thinking 'I haven't had a custard cream in a while, maybe I should get some' because of that one time when you were about 10 when you loved them. Food memories are ones that appeal to all of the senses, I think, and maybe that's why they're so potent, but Slater just manages to make them even stronger by being amazing.
My other favourite thing about this book, aside from the nostalgia, is something really specific to me. As you might have noticed, I read a fair few books about food, and basically all of them are along the lines of 'you should not eat meat!' 'You should not eat meat OR dairy!' 'You should only eat seasonal foods' and frankly, it all brings out the most horrendous guilt in me. Nigel Slater does not do this AT ALL- even though he's quite a big advocate of farmers markets, and of eating seasonally (or he at least mentions these in some essaylets) he's just as likely to be talking about how amazing some ridiculously processed food like kit-kats are. It's really clear that he just really loves food- of all types, in moderation, and served with great dollops of nostalgia.
Also he really bloody loves toast and it's just impossible not to be charmed by someone like that.
I've been trying to think about whether this book would work for anyone who wasn't raised in the UK (if you were, I mean, seriously, go and read it now. It's ridiculously lovely) and I think, kind of? It's definitely not going to have the same resonance because, you know, you're probably going to have to google some of the foods he talks about, but it's still amusing enough and we surely have some similar culinary touchstones (we all love toast, right?) that it would still make sense in other places? Actually, I'm pretty much just saying this because I want to find out if these things are true, so if any of you want to read it, you can definitely report back and I will listen.