Citrus and Spice: A Year of Flavour by Sybil Kapoor

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Citrus and Spice: A Year of Flavour by Sybil Kapoor

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Category: Cookery
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An exploration of the link between aroma, food, flavour and emotion with recipes to appeal to all the senses.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: November 2008
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
ISBN: 978-1847372215

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It's not often that a cookery book keeps me awake at night but Sybil Kapoor's Citrus and Spice did just that. The cause of the problem was the need to sort out in my own mind what, exactly, I understood by the word 'flavour'. For me it's always been a combination of various senses – taste, smell, texture on the tongue, even the visual impact of the food – which gave a dish its flavour. It's the overall experience of the food. Sybil Kapoor wants me to think differently.

And by flavour, I mean smell – the scent of the food that we experience before and during eating.

Smell – the aroma of food – evokes memories and associations, changes mood. We all know what happens when you open a sealed bag of ground coffee or go into the kitchen as toast is being made. On a personal note, the smell of a curry always takes me back to the days when I worked in the middle of Bradford and regularly ate lunch in one or other of the curry houses. Sybil Kapoor wants to use the link between flavour, memory and emotion to enhance the food which we create.

She takes twelve familiar flavours and links them to a month of the year – citrus (January), ozone (February), earth (March), verdant (April), cream (May), floral (June), herbal (July), fruit (August), fungi (September), toast (October), smoke (November) and spice in December. There is an element of seasonality although this isn't strictly adhered to – the spiced roast peppers with mozzarella appear in December, but the last of my own crop of peppers are just coming out of the greenhouse in October. It is quite delicious, though, with the careful spicing balancing the cheese rather than bullying it, as might easily have happened.

For each flavour we're treated to Sybil's thoughts (backed by scientific background where appropriate) on how the flavour works with the food and on the emotions. Make no mistake she has a way with words:

Playing with floral notes in food is like adding delicate flecks of white to a dark painting.

She's right too. The grilled mackerel with gooseberry elderflower relish is a perfect example of how the floral notes lift the dish – and this one is seasonal as there's a brief overlap of gooseberries and elderflowers in June. There's another recipe in June for cannellini and broad beans with lavender which she recommends serving with linden blossom honey roast duck. The very thought of it has me sat in the garden with a glass of chilled white wine in my hand.

I particularly enjoyed the section on smoke, appropriately devoted to November:

Wood smoke curling into the cold night air.

There's a smoked salmon, grilled leek and fennel salad which is a perfect combination of tastes. In strictness the recipe requires that you use baby leeks but I did a little bit of adjustment and used some of their older relatives. Not all the recipes are complex or require unusual ingredients – mushrooms, smoked ham and cheese on toast would make a wonderful Sunday brunch.

The linking of each flavour with a month works reasonably well provided that you don't expect the book to work on the same lines as The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater or The Kitchen Revolution. Creamy scrambled eggs with chives works well in May but they're equally good for a Sunday breakfast in October – as I can testify. It might even be said that the papaya, lime and mint salad would be better when the mint can be picked fresh from the garden rather than in January, but this is nit-picking and I know it.

The blurb on the back of the book says that this is a book which will transform my cooking. I'm not certain that I would go that far, but then I've perhaps reached the age at which my cooking needs inspiration rather than transformation. It's certainly made me think about the link between flavour, memory and emotion and how this can enhance the food I serve.

It's also given me some very tasty recipes. As a bonus there's a thought-provoking foreword by Heston Blumenthal, some wonderful photographs and a book which is pure pleasure to read.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Sybil Kapoor is obviously a fan of Jane Grigson and all of her books will give you food for thought. Another book which you might enjoy, although sadly only available now on the second hand market is Kettle Broth to Gooseberry Fool: Book of Simple English Food by Jenny Baker.

Buy Citrus and Spice: A Year of Flavour by Sybil Kapoor at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Citrus and Spice: A Year of Flavour by Sybil Kapoor at

Buy Citrus and Spice: A Year of Flavour by Sybil Kapoor at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Citrus and Spice: A Year of Flavour by Sybil Kapoor at


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