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WHAT BOOK would food historian and author Pen Vogler take to a desert island?


…are you reading now? 

Every time I emerge from the world of a Dickens novel, I feel bereft; and I felt exactly the same at the end of Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead, a modern retelling of David Copperfield. So thank you to Zadie Smith for the excellent, Dickensian, The Fraud. 

As a food historian, I snuffle out trifles of food folklore such as The Tichborne Dole, so it is fun to revisit the same family through the infamous case at the heart of Smith’s novel. 

When I was a teenager, my irrepressible Aunt Pam told me you could guarantee night-time satisfaction by taking a cookbook to bed. I’ve been doing that ever since, and I’m admiring how Helen Rebanks’s beautiful memoir with recipes, The Farmer’s Wife, brings those two artforms together. 

I’ve learnt so much from every book by Bee Wilson and now I am enjoying her wisdom and grater techniques in The Secret Of Cooking. One of the things I realised whilst writing Stuffed is that good recipes and food writing (or TV) that help us make and appreciate food aren’t just nice-to-haves; they are a key part of our healthy lives. 

Both these books prove this. 

What book would food historian and author Pen Vogler (pictured) take to a desert island?

What book would food historian and author Pen Vogler (pictured) take to a desert island?

…would you take to a desert island? 

The scrappiest, most-read book on my shelf is the RHS Encyclopedia Of Gardening, though you couldn’t tell by looking at my patchy lawn, scruffy flower beds and insect-ravaged crops. 

I would design the perfect herb garden (with a water feature), propagate my own fruit trees and my tomatoes would be so amazing, cruise ships would re-route past the island, so their passengers could gasp in admiration. 

But the Asterix books were the first I felt I had discovered by myself (not altogether reasonably, as my Uncle Clem actually gave them to us)

But the Asterix books were the first I felt I had discovered by myself (not altogether reasonably, as my Uncle Clem actually gave them to us)

…first gave you the reading bug? 

I have a happy haze of childhood memories of my mum reading to all of us four children. As I learnt to read myself I devoured the family favourites: aged about seven, I knew that heaven was Narnia. 

But the Asterix books were the first I felt I had discovered by myself (not altogether reasonably, as my Uncle Clem actually gave them to us). I must have read them ten or 20 times before I had the confidence to spell out the long names and realise they were fantastically funny. 

They were the first books I loved that were (sort of!) about history. Justin, my brother, claimed he passed his history O-level with an essay about Roman warfare, gleaned from Asterix. 

…left you cold? 

Oh, so many! Often they are blockbusters that everybody else loves and I don’t ‘get’; I must have a faulty gene. 

If I’m beginning to feel weary, I find a synopsis online to relieve me of the burden of not knowing what happens. 

OK, she/he dies/survives/gets married. Bang. I don’t need to read any more. 

But if you want a name, I discovered that just because The Master And Margarita has a black cat in it, doesn’t mean that I’ll like it. I did try… 

  • Stuffed: A History Of Good Food And Hard Times In Britain by Pen Vogler is out November 2 (Atlantic Books, £22) 



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