The best books on food of 2017

Tasty spices from India, long-forgotten recipes from France – and Turkish delight from Narnia. Bee Wilson takes comfort in cookbooks

Did cookbook publishers know something that the rest of us didn’t in 2016 when they were planning this year’s lists? Never has a year in global politics so clearly called for comfort eating, and food writers have delivered in ladlefuls. This has been the strongest year for cookbooks I can remember and my list of recommendations here could have been twice as long.

Comfort food, as the American food writer Emily Nunn explores in her moving and witty memoir The Comfort Food Diaries (Simon & Schuster), is not always the same as “tasteful” food. “Like the heart, the stomach wants what it wants,” Nunn writes. She recalls a former boyfriend whose taste of home was a terrible green gelatin “salad” made with cream cheese, raw cabbage, pecan nuts and lime ...

Dolce Vita Confidential by Shawn Levy review – swinging Rome in the 1950s

The post-Mussolini capital of Italy was a glamorous ‘Hollywood on the Tiber’, even if Fellini’s famous film is now misunderstood Her mane of wet peroxide hair is flung back and she is almost busting out of her strapless black gown as she wades recklessly through the fountain. Anita Ekberg in the Trevi fountain scene in Federico Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita has become an instant visual shorthand for a brief era – 1948 to 1960, give or take – when Italy in general and Rome in particular seemed like the most photogenic place in the world. Continue reading...

Plot 29: A Memoir by Allan Jenkins review – childhood trauma and the solace of gardening

As he cultivates his London allotment, the journalist also digs into his troubled past – a brilliant grafting of haunting recollections on to a gardener’s diary “We must cultivate our garden,” was the moral of Voltaire’s 1759 satire Candide. Faced with a world full of evil, uncertainty, bad luck, corrupt politics, natural disaster and torture, the best Voltaire’s hero can do is stay at home and look after the produce of his own garden, a small plot with pistachio nuts and citrons. Out in the world, Candide’s plans go horribly wrong. It is only in his small plot that he can lead a life that is productive, responsible and serene. Something of the same spirit animates the wonderful Plot 29 by Observer journalist Allan Jenkins, which is half memoir, half thoughtful gardener’s diary. Like Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk, this is a profoundly moving account of mental trauma ...

Plot 29: A Memoir by Allan Jenkins review – childhood trauma and the solace of gardening

As he cultivates his London allotment, the journalist also digs into his troubled past – a brilliant grafting of haunting recollections on to a gardener’s diary “We must cultivate our garden,” was the moral of Voltaire’s 1759 satire Candide. Faced with a world full of evil, uncertainty, bad luck, corrupt politics, natural disaster and torture, the best Voltaire’s hero can do is stay at home and look after the produce of his own garden, a small plot with pistachio nuts and citrons. Out in the world, Candide’s plans go horribly wrong. It is only in his small plot that he can lead a life that is productive, responsible and serene. Something of the same spirit animates the wonderful Plot 29 by Observer journalist Allan Jenkins, which is half memoir, half thoughtful gardener’s diary. Like Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk, this is a profoundly moving account of mental trauma ...

Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating by Charles Spence – review

Does the size of your plate matter, or how loud your crisps crunch? A psychologist explores our multisensory experience of foodOne of the lesser enigmas of life is why so many people order tomato juice on aeroplanes. Like Pavlov’s dog, I often start craving it myself the minute I do my seatbelt up. Lemon, Worcester sauce, no ice (which I find dilutes the salty thickness too much). In the general run of things, few of us sip tomato juice for breakfast or as an aperitif, yet this savoury beverage forms 27% of all drinks orders on planes, with or without added vodka. According to one survey of more than 1,000 passengers, nearly a quarter of people will choose tomato juice when flying, even though they never drink it under other circumstances. This is exactly the kind of puzzle that interests Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology. In Gastrophysics, ...

Eat Me: A Natural and Unnatural History of Cannibalism – review

Bill Schutt’s book features a few psychopaths but dwells on the functions of cannibalism in human and animal societies Cannibalism, suggests the biologist Bill Schutt in his entertaining but slightly unorganised account, is an “enduring aspect of life that” leaves none of us “untouched”. At this point, the reader may be checking his or her neck for bite marks. But Schutt clearly means that we are touched by cannibals in some kind of all-encompassing but non-literal sense. From the child-eating hag of Hansel and Gretel to Hannibal Lecter, Schutt argues that cannibals are central to human stories. In many single-topic books, there is an element of special pleading. It’s an understandable form of salesmanship in a market of too many books and not enough readers. Whether the book is about cod or clocks, the author attempts – some more convincingly than others – to persuade us that this tiny ...

Kick by Paula Bryne review – what if JFK had been a woman?

Kick Kennedy, ‘JFK’s forgotten sister and the heir to Chatsworth’, had as much personality and sexual charisma as her brother but throughout her short life was a victim of double standards What if JFK had been a woman? The 35th president of the United States had a sister born three years later, christened Kathleen, although everyone called her Kick. Inside and outside the Kennedy family, Kick and Jack seemed to many observers to be doppelgangers. As one of JFK’s many girlfriends said: “He looked like her twin, the same thick mop of hair, the same blue eyes, naturally engaging, ambitious and warm.” Like Jack, Kick was witty, sporty and sharp, and could seduce any crowd with her dazzling Kennedy smile (they had both had expensive orthodonty, arranged by their mother, Rose). Kick was interested in politics, too, and seriously considered a career in it. Living in Britain in her mid-20s, she was “asked ...