Sunday, 07 August 2022

Browsing the bookshelves for the ultimate dinner party gift

THERE’S a sacred place in Henley where I expand my knowledge. How to bikini wax, avoid cauliflower blight,

THERE’S a sacred place in Henley where I expand my knowledge. How to bikini wax, avoid cauliflower blight, treat verrucas, learn of council espionage, sex, scandal and murder.

A sacred place, my little sanctuary, joy of joys, the independent non-chain Bell Bookshop on Bell Street. Celebrating its 50th birthday later this year, having sold their first Penguin in 1966.

I can lose hours in a good bookshop. You will find me thumbing through previously loved editions in the Duke Street Oxfam, daydreaming in Richard Way Books on Friday Street, or Jonkers Rare Books in Hart Street.

Dinner party etiquette is to present your host with gladioli, a bottle of something decent and a little box from Gorvett & Stone.

I prefer giving a book — makes me look brainy, clever. Obviously not my own cookbook. Even by own egocentricity that would be beyond the pale. Wonder if AWT gives autographed copies.

Recently published, The Oxfordshire Cook Book would make a wonderful dinner party gift instead of the usual bottle of wine.

Besides, your carefully selected 2012 Chassagne-Montrachet will be squirrelled away, replaced with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. You soooo wanted to taste that Chassagne-Montrachet then wallow in compliments by other dinner party guests on your exquisite taste and sommelier skills. Give a book!

Give The Oxfordshire Cook Book, which celebrates the amazing food and drink on our doorsteps, featuring more than 50 stunning recipes — including many of my own. Two hundred pages of beautiful photography detailing Oxfordshire’s gastronomy — from nationally acclaimed artisan bakers and delicatessens to our amazing local butcher Gabriel Machin in Falaise Square.

Then there are independent wine merchants such as Eynsham Cellars, celebrated cheese shop the Oxford Cheese Company, a plethora of farm shops who bring the freshest local produce of local producers making everything from St Bartholomew cheese at Nettlebed Creamery to hazelnut and almond praline at Plantation Chocolates in Oxford.

Check out Gabriel Machin’s scrumptious beef carbonnade with Henley dark ale and horseradish dumplings.

And there is a brilliant chapter on local food heroes Emma and Jed Jackson’s Blue Tin Produce and their small family-run farm in Ipsden, where rare-breed meat is reared using traditional and natural methods and sold from their award-winning farm shop.

Stoke Row’s Cherry Tree share their recipe for wild garlic flatbread and rabbit rillettes. And you can enjoy a bouillabaisse recipe from the Baskerville in Shiplake.

Two great Goring eateries share kitchen secrets. Try Pierreponts’ lemon sole with beetroot and pea risotto.

Chef Nick Galer of the Miller of Mansfield tells you how to prepare hogget hotpot with confit onion and Jerusalem artichoke purée .

And of course, there’s a delicious chapter on the Crooked Billet, Stoke Row.

With more than 80 foodies contributing to The Oxfordshire Cook Book it is unlikely the Henley Literary Festival will fit all our egos on stage.

Don’t buy The Oxfordshire Cook Book online, not from Amazon. Get it from the Bell Bookshop at £14.95, take it round to Gabriel Machin’s for an autograph and buy a pound of his shop cured and smoked bacon.


• Paul Clerehugh is chef proprietor of the Crooked Billet, Stoke Row, and the London Street Brasserie, Reading. Catch Paul every week on Food on Friday (2pm, BBC Radio Berkshire).

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