I have been a devotee of Nigella Lawson’s writing for years, since way before her cookery books, when she wrote a column for the London Evening Standard. I have most of her books (Domestic Goddess and Feat are my favourites) and I have written before on this blog about how convinced I am that the world divides into two sorts of people: followers of Nigella and disciples of Delia.
The exception that proves this rule is @Annette1Hardy who probably has all the cookery books ever written. I see them all, colour coded in a large galleried library like that of Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady and she spends half an hour at the very beginning of each day whizzing around smoothly on a mobile ladder singing to herself while she decides which book she’ll choose for the day. Or something.
Whilst I have respect for Delia as a teacher of recipes, I have none of her books. I might be doing her and her good, standard, basic recipes a huge disservice here but, to me, food is about much more than nourishment and fuel for our bodies.
What has always attracted me about Nigella Lawson’s approach to food is that she’s never been afraid to revel in its sensual pleasure. The people I know who sneer at and express their disgust for her are invariably those who have seen her on TV and feel uncomfortable at the suggestive nature of her conspicuous enjoyment of food. And, let’s be honest, what does that say about their approach to other good things in life?
Yet in tonight’s conversation between her and Diana Henry at my children’s school, she pointed out that she doesn’t do any of this stuff on purpose. (I have only ever seen a half on one of her programmes so I’m not really in a position to judge them, but I have read what she writes on food and I totally agree with her.)
I am against the worthy, virtuous Puritanism that looks down upon people who enjoy good food. Generally these thin-lipped, scowling negative types turn out to be prissy and judgemental, so anxious to prove that in refusing to indulge themselves, they are so much better than those who do.
To them, food is merely fuel. It’s not a shared ritual of coming together to indulge our senses and nourish minds and bodies with food that has been prepared taking time and love. (It doesn’t need to be a huge, stressful effort, either.) I know people like this and there’s no reasoning with them. They just don’t get that it’s good to indulge your passions and pleasures, probably because it makes you into a more interesting person.
I’m not expressing myself well tonight, am I? Upshot is: we went to a book-promotion evening at our school where Nigella Lawson was being interviewed by Diana Henry, whose food writing I have yet to experience, and it was captivating.
There is no alchemy involved in being a good cook, to buy mind. You just have to have a little imagination; to be able to read and to be able to follow instructions and pay attention. It is Nigella’s approach – her books and recipes are like having a reassuring friend in the kitchen with you – that made me first experiment with steak and kidney pudding, which I would never have introduced to our diet if I hadn’t seen a Nigella recipe for it.
And, to those people who saw an article bemoaning the ticket price of this evening in the Daily Mail: she is obviously far more popular than you’d credit: there’s probably a reason why the evening was sold out.