Regula Ysewijn has had a fascination with British food since she was a young child, which may not sound that unusual until you learn that she was born and grew up in Belgium. Baking is a particular passion of hers, which informed both her first book Pride and Pudding, and her latest title, Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The History of British Baking, Savoury and Sweet.
Read more about how Regula’s love for British cuisine was formed and fed in Kavey’s review of Pride and Pudding.
In her latest book, Regula takes us on a journey through the landscapes, legends and traditions of Britain through its baking. The title is a nod to the influence on regional cuisines of the types of cereal crops grown locally, and we also learn how imports of sugar and spices, citrus fruits, fortified wine and treacle contributed so strongly to our baking culture. For those with an interest in food history alongside cooking, this a two-faceted treasure of a book.
The introduction itself says there aren’t really formal chapters because of the potential difficulty in deciding the dividing lines between cake, bread, bun and biscuit – as Regula explains, “buns and biscuits sometimes bear the name cake, and some biscuits are actually gingerbread and a gingerbread can also be a parkin…“. Clearly baking doesn’t escape the vagaries of the English language, so I have sympathy for anyone trying to categorise such chaos.
That said, the recipes are broadly grouped along sensible lines, with passages of explanation and historical context both between and throughout those groups. The recipes cover the classic range of British baking – cakes, biscuits, buns and breads – with some nice regional interest included; this is only the second recipe book in which I’ve encountered Aberdeen Butteries, for example.
Most recipes fit nicely on a single page with a facing photograph so you know what to expect, and the recipes themselves are broadly clear and easy to follow, with an introduction that often includes some historical context.
There are a few instances when a certain level of knowledge is expected of the cook; the Welsh cake recipe tells you to aim for “the consistency of scone dough“, but perhaps it’s not unreasonable to assume that anyone attracted to this book has done the baking basics before. Having recently moved to Wales, these were the first recipe I made, and they came out really well.
There’s a handy section on ingredients which suggests some possible substitutions but – in the UK at least – there is nothing that you wouldn’t find on any supermarket shelf.
Perhaps the best way to sum up the book is that you can open it at almost any page to be presented with a picture of something that would go nicely with your cup of tea, and a list of ingredients that you know are already in your cupboard. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve just got to go and pre-heat the oven…
Recipes from Oats in the North, Wheat from the South
We have permission from Murdoch Books to share a couple of recipes with you from the book:
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Kavey Eats received a review copy of Regula Ysewijn’s Oats in the North, Wheat from the South from publisher Murdoch Books. Photography by Regula Ysewijn. Available on Amazon UK at time of review for £17.70 (RRP £25).