What is the essence of the book?
If the title hasn’t given you an enormous clue, The Vinegar Cupboard is ‘everything you ever needed to know about this vital ingredient’ (to quote Ken Hom). Most cooks will be familiar with using this ingredient in salad dressings or to sprinkle over their chips but Clutton aims to open the readers’ eyes to the myriad of vinegars available and their uses in the kitchen, which extend way beyond a simple condiment. The book takes you on a world tour of vinegars across the ages touching on culinary and medical uses but also provides innovative recipes for how to use them in the 21st century kitchen.
About the author
Angela Clutton is a food writer and food historian. She hosts the hugely popular Borough Market Cookbook Club, has appeared on BBC TV’s Rip Off Britain, Food and has written for publications like the Daily Telegraph and Country Life.
Who will like it?
Keen cooks who like to explore new ways to use ‘everyday’ ingredients but also who thirst for a different approach to cooking. It’s not that any of the recipes are especially quirky but more that they provide an inspired insight into how vinegar can be used to its best advantage.
Who won’t like it?
If you’re the sort of person who abhors anything too acidic it would be easy to dismiss this book based on the title alone. That would be a great shame because, for the most part, the quantities of vinegar used in each recipe are small and designed to enhance the dish rather than engulf it.
What do I like about the book?
Some authors have a knack of creating a familiar feel to their writing. As Nigella so eloquently put it in How To Eat (1998) ‘I have wanted to make you feel that I’m there with you, in the kitchen, as you cook.’ Jane Grigson did it very well and so too does Clutton (it seems particularly fitting that she won the Jane Grigson Trust Award in 2018 for this book). Given the topic could veer towards geekery Clutton deals with it in a down to earth fashion making the book a delight to read. At no point do you get a sense of superiority (although she is clearly incredibly knowledgeable on the subject). The scientific elements are explained logically with sufficient detail to inform but not to drown the reader in facts (the wonderful illustrations help communicate the workings of vinegar too). Of course, you could by-pass the detail and skip onto the recipes alone but in my opinion you would be missing out. Prior to reading this book I had definitely taken vinegar for granted. I have found the history and uses for this ingredient genuinely fascinating and really look forward to making more of it as an ingredient in the future.
Is there anything I’m not so keen on?
I suspect I will be in a very small minority here but I would have been interested in learning how to make vinegar at home. As Clutton says ‘there are so many skilled, creative, craftspeople-come-alchemists out there making wonderful vinegars from exciting base produce’ so do-it-yourself vinegar recipes are not covered in the book. (Who am I trying to kid? Realistically I would probably never find the time to do it myself anyway!).
Would I cook from it?
To us the term ‘mouthwatering’ may be a little trite but frankly the recipes are just that. The Vinegar Cupboard is an eclectic mix of savoury and sweet dishes taking inspiration from around the globe. You’ll find enticing recipes like Baked Apples with Balsamic to Nanbanzuke Fish (which uses Japanese brown rice vinegar). The top notch photography from Polly Webster makes the recipes all the more alluring, so yes, I will be cooking from it.