Tea with Diana Henry to celebrate the launch of Salt Sugar Smoke

Sometimes it’s nice to gather together to celebrate. I don’t think we celebrate, or gather together, nearly enough anymore. Time is always too tight and other commitments always seem to take precedence. As Brits, we don’t really go too far into celebrating our successes, either. So, I was delighted to be amongst a group of food writers and bloggers to be invited to tea recently with Diana Henry at her home to celebrate the launch of her latest book, Salt Sugar Smoke, an enchanting guide on preserving meat, fish and vegetables.

Diana Henry Tea

When I first met Diana Henry last year, I was instantly struck by both her generosity and her appreciation of good food. I was also fortunate enough to come away with some invaluable advice on the subject of food writing.  As a food writer and cookery book author, part of Diana’s job, as she sees it, is to gather and collect recipes and then to share them. It’s really quite a straightforward process; Diana cooks and writes and has made a living out of something that she once considered to be a hobby.

On that occasion, Diana was interested in asking me some questions, too, and was quite intrigued, I think, by the evolution of new media and food bloggers. In particular, by the efforts we make and lengths we go to in documenting and tweeting our everyday experiences of food. The propellant, as we came to understand in both our cases, is a deep-rooted passion for all aspects of food.  

High Tea

High tea – ‘a very British kind of meal’ – was what Diana used to have at her great grandmother’s house on a Sunday. There would always be bread and butter and jam, each preserve with their individual spoon. Our celebratory gathering replicated that in some ways, alongside some of Diana’s favourite recipes from Salt Sugar Smoke.    

High Tea

Homemade preserves were served in vintage china bowls, flavours included greengage and gewürztraminer, apricot and lavender, rhubarb, cardamom and rose and purple fig and pomegranate.

Salt Sugar Smoke

Diana had also made whisky and brown sugar cured salmon with a fennel and apple relish, served alongside artisan cheese with whitecurrant jelly and two types of homemade bread; Irish brown and sourdough.

Cured Salmon

A little understated sweetness came in the form of hazelnut pavlovas topped with crème fraiche, autumn raspberries and rosehip jelly, and a simple Victoria sandwich filled with mascarpone cream and passion fruit curd.

Victoria Sandwich

Since our gathering was celebratory in nature, we were also treated to a glass of champagne with a dash of homemade fruit alcohols, including quince liqeueur and sloe gin – although we were all equally happy with refills of warming tea served in pretty pots and china cups!  

Homemade Alcohol

For me, the mantra in all of Diana’s books is to find really good simple food, to share it, to enjoy it. In her own personal quest, Diana is always on the lookout for unusual recipes or ‘otherworldly’ recipes from all over the globe. In Salt Sugar Smoke there is a wonderful section on the joy of the ‘zakuski’ table; small plates of delicacies from Russia and Eastern Europe. There are also delightful Indian and Middle Eastern accompaniments, relishes, chutneys and more ideas for things to have with high tea – hand-crafted pickles and various ‘bits that are served on the side.’ 

Salt Sugar Smoke

Diana explores the many different ways of preserving, with an innate understanding of ingredients and flavours as well as a deep respect for tradition and food history, too. In her view, ‘home cooking – especially the quick kind we do a lot these days – is about accessorizing. We have to think of something good to do with a pork chop or a piece of fish.’

I’ve particularly enjoyed teaching myself some of our lost culinary skills through the book, too. I made purple fig and pomegranate jam on my own for the first time. I also cured a salmon with beetroot, dill and vodka for my sister’s birthday and made a Georgian plum sauce using fresh, seasonal plums to serve alongside our usual Sunday roast. I’ll certainly also look forward to replicating ‘high tea’ and to making some pickles and chutneys to give as gifts for Christmas.  

High Tea

It seems that commercialism, mass production and a need to have things instantly have overtaken our instincts to preserve, sustain and safeguard. Skills that were once considered to be essential to the home have almost become irrelevant to our busy lives. I am hopeful that we are slowly rediscovering the art of making things for ourselves and that in the process; we are sharing and teaching ourselves something new, too.    

It was brave of Diana to open up her home and lay out her food to the scrutiny of food bloggers, editors and writers. We ate, we chatted, we tweeted, we peeked into Diana’s cookery book collection and into her pantry and we took photographs of every detail. Diana was warm, welcoming and very unassuming of her success.

Cookery Books

Tradition met with modernity in many ways on that bright and memorable afternoon. I was also reminded that really good food isn’t about pomp and grandeur. Tea with Diana Henry illustrated that there can be great elegance in simplicity.   

Diana Henry

‘It could seem very grandiose to talk about ‘what makes a good life’ in a book that is simply a collection of recipes. But for me, one of the constituents of a good life is the ability to find pleasure in the small things. A good jam for your toast in the morning. A chutney that is made from apples you gathered last autumn. Cutting salt beef that you’ve made yourself and can feed to a dozen friends. These are seemingly unimportant things, and they won’t change the world, but the sum of happiness in one’s life is often made up of such details.’

Diana Henry, Salt Sugar Smoke

With many thanks to Diana Henry and Fiona Smith of Octopus Books for arranging the afternoon.

Salt Sugar Smoke is published by Mitchell Beazley/Octopus Books

Keep in touch!

Subscribe now to the Ren Behan Food newsletter twice a month - delivered to your inbox!

Comments

  1. says

    That was such a lovely afternoon wi you all and such lovely food. I’m planning to take my post live soon. Just been rather obsessed with making stuff!

    • Ren says

      Just saw this comment, sorry Urvashi. I love reading these posts back, brings back happy memories of a lovely, sunny afternoon :-)

  2. says

    You know what the most important factor in good food is? Time. Having the time to cook food properly (none of this Fast Food nonsense), and having the time to enjoy it – preferably with family or friends – without feeling rushed. So many people seem to see eating as a chore these days, something to got over and done with ASAP. Foolish souls! Sounds as if DH’s get-together was a wonderful occasion, and it’s nice to hear that she is so happy to share her knowledge.

    • Ren says

      I agree, time is of the essence! But as Diana says, if you’ve got a few good bits in the store cupboard you can transform everyday food into something infinitely more exciting at the drop of a hat. I began to see cooking as a chore, that’s exactly why I started my blog, to inspire myself to try new things and NOT get stuck in a rut! But I do appreciate that time is necessary to enjoy the process of making and preserving, as well as everyday cooking. Diana is definitelty a sharer.

  3. says

    It looks like you had a great afternoon. I love the crockery and the food looks delicious. I think Diana’s book has just made it onto my Christmas list! :-)

    • Ren says

      Thank you Alex, yes, the vintage crockery was really stunning. Inspired to start collecting my own pieces, now. Hope you get the book for Christmas x

  4. says

    Do you know what? I’ve actually bought this book. Yes .. not been sent it by the publisher .. but gone out and actually paid for it! I won’t be writing about it yet … but I will most certainly be cooking form it !

  5. says

    The Book looks and sounds really nice – I have been a fan of Diana’s for a while. Loving your new look of your blog page too. Congrats being named in the top 100 food blogs must be very exciting.

    • Ren says

      Thank you Denise, yes lots of great blogs listed but also some new ones that hadn’t hit my radar! Thanks for stopping by to comment. I’m pleased you like Diana Henry, too.

  6. says

    Oh my goodness, that tea looks wonderful! Fantastic presentation. but I bet, from talking to Diana, it was all so lovely, warm and friendly too. I am loving cooking from the book too, so many tempting recipes and lovely to read/look at. Great description from you. Andrea

    • Ren says

      Thank you Andrea, it was a very inspiring spread and very laid back. I really loved your review post – lots of tasty ideas and accompaniments for your home bred piggies!

  7. says

    This does look like a wonderful book packed full of delicious recipes. The day you spent with Diana sounds just about perfect. She is obviously a very generous host and brilliant cook. Love your write up too x

  8. says

    I’ve been cooking from the book too, and most things seem to be very successful. I love some of the flavour combinations she uses in her jam making and will be taking the book to France next summer, where I tend to make most of my jams.
    What a lovely tea she shared with you, and I was glad to see Diana’s home made liqueurs in the same bottles as I use!

    • Ren says

      So pleased to hear you’ve enjoyed your cooking from the book, too. How nice to have the same bottles, they look French, I wondered whether they were sourced in France? x

Trackbacks