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Honey from a Weed by Patience Gray

Honey from a Weed by Patience Gray

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John recommends:

‘The best cookery book in the shop - not necessarily for cooking from, just for opening to a random page, luxuriating in the atmosphere and resolving to move to Tuscany and eat stewed fox with anarchist shepherds in the hills.’

From the publisher:

Within a few months of its first appearance in 1986 Honey from a Weed was hailed as a modern classic. Fiona MacCarthy wrote in The Times that, ‘the book is a large and grandiose life history, a passionate narrative of extremes of experience.’ Jeremy Round called Patience Gray ‘the high priestess of cooking’, whose book ‘pushes the form of the cookery book as far as it can go.’ Angela Carter remarked that ‘it was less a cookery book that a summing-up of the genre of the late-modern British cookery book.’ The work has attracted a cult following in the United States, where passages have been read out at great length on the radio; and it has been anthologized by Paul Levy in The Penguin Book of Food and Drink. It was given a special award by the André Simon Book Prize committee in 1987. 

Although more than a cookery book – being a musing on a life lived on the shores of the Mediterranean, particularly wherever marble suitable for sculpture can be found – it contains many vibrant and useful recipes, making it a bible for lover of Mediterranean food. Fish, wild plants, game and tomatoes are just some of the foodstuffs that get treatment of an impeccable sort.

Patience Gray was first known for the 1950s classic, Plats du Jour, but her greatest work was this passionate autobiographical cookery book Honey from a Weed. It is Mediterranean through and through, and as compelling as a first-class novel. First published in 1986, the book is now published in the original format, but with soft covers. She shared the life of a sculptor, Norman Mommens, whose appetite for marble and sedimentary rocks took them to Tuscany, Catalonia, the Cyclades (Naxos) and Apulia. These are the places which in turn inspired this rhapsodic text. Everywhere, she learned from the country people whose way of life she shared, adopting their methods of growing, cooking and con­serving the staple foods of the Mediterranean. She described the rustic foods and dishes with feeling and fidelity, writing from the inside and with a deep sense of the history and continuity of Mediterranean ways. Her life in the Salento contrasted with an earlier, and indeed glittering, career in Fleet Street, but she sacrificed the deadlines of the past to the rhythm of wine-making, seasonal sowing and gathering.