Diana Henry in conversation

Monday 9th April 2018, 7.30pm
Venue: Browsers Bookshop

Diana HenryThis was Diana's second time with Browsers, joining us on this occasion to launch her glorious new book called 'How to Eat a Peach'.

The guests were packed into the bookshop, treated to a glass of Prosecco as they arrived, and eager to get their hands on their own copy of the book, which would be presented at the end of the evening.

We remembered very quickly how much we enjoyed Diana's last visit: she was a fabulous speaker - entertaining and inspiring, and 'real'. She knows our frustrations with recipes which have too many ingredients, or meals which make unrealistic demands on our time or patience.

This book, with its furry, peachy cover, is all about the food Diana has cooked over the years as she's travelled the world and collected new flavour combinations.

She explained how her own love of food has grown from the days when, at 16, at home in Northern Ireland she was writing menu notes in a school exercise book. These were menus she imagined as many of the dishes she hadn't actually cooked.

When Diana was a child, having people round for a meal meant a buffet-style spread, and she remembers her mother busy in the kitchen with the mixer on and wearing her Mary Quant skirt.

Diana told us about the first dinner party she held for schoolfriends where there were so many candles, the girls asked if they were about to take mass. And how, on viewing her carefully presented pineapple sorbet, they asked why they were expected to eat mashed potato for dessert.

Food then was about wholesome, seasonal and locally grown Irish cooking, and baking, with aspirations for French cookery. "I was stuck in my mother's Cordon Bleu partworks," Diana said. She longed to find out more about ingredients and flavours. Cooking gave her the desire and the opportunity to travel, she said.

This book is Diana's 11th title - she visited us with 'Simple' in 2016 - and she described how each one of her books takes many years to come together. Usually she is working on two or three at the same time. She currently has plans for one book where, although she has the title and the concept, she knows it will not be written for another seven years!

For 'How to Eat a Peach' she told us about the months of photography involved, as well as the work she has put in writing the essays and choosing the recipes.

Initially her publisher hadn't been keen on the idea of the book, she said, as it was felt that a book about menus implied 'entertaining', which traditionally does not sell well.

Of course Diana doesn't follow the trend and knew from her own experience that we are all desperate for advice on how to put the starter, main and dessert courses together when we invited people round for a meal.

It's the questions she's most asked, she said. Even friends would ring her saying they had a main course planned but no idea for what else to serve. "And they were asking my advice on a meal to which I had not been invited!" she said.

There are some basic rules to follow, she suggested. Try to avoid having two fish courses. Be sparing on cream dishes, and have a light starter to whet the appetite not sate it. And while she likes good table linen, Diana said she doesn't usually have time for getting out the best cutlery. The little things are what counts, she said. A good water jug, flowers in a glass, good bread and butter. When she has had people round for a meal, she said, this usually means the books are swept to the end of the kitchen table, and a big roasting dish put out for guests to help themselves. I think we all wished we were invited along.

The book is presented in four sections, with menus presented within the four seasons. Each menu is inspired by visits to San Francisco, Spain, France, Italy, and each one had a description of how the recipes were discovered and what memories are evoked by the different meals.

Cookery books today have to be much more than a list of ingredients and a method, Diana said. There have always been 'narrative cookbooks', she said, but the internet has meant that writers, designers and publishers have been forced to be more creative.

With this book as the result, how lucky we are. This slice of sunshine was handed out to each member of the audience and one by one they enjoyed a few moments with Diana as she wrote a personal dedication. Then she was rushing out of the door to get the train back to London.

We were thrilled that Diana had been able to spend the time with us again, though sorry she couldn't enjoy more of the Suffolk coast which she loves - Southwold and Aldeburgh used to be regular haunts. We hope we'll see her again very soon.

Tickets were £25 and included a copy of the beautiful new book 'How to Eat a Peach',(RRP £25) and refreshments.