Friday, 19 February 2016

Nordic Cooking With Magnus Nilsson

The top of my recent Christmas wishlist was of course a cookbook. Not just any cookbook but what I would now consider the Britannica of Nordic cooking. It is the only Nordic cookbook you will ever need because it pretty much covers all that could possibly be out there to know on the subject. If you, like my husband, want to give a gift that will not only impress but intimidate then this is the one. When wrapped and hidden in gift paper your loved one, yet to receive their gift, will assume you have wrapped up a besser block for them and be none the wiser that this besser block is actually the 768 page, aptly titled The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson in disguise.

Saveur magazine listed it amongst the best cookbooks of 2015 and if size weighs in on this judgement I am surprised it wasn't THE best cookbook of 2015. But don't let size be your only measurement when it comes to the quality of this cookbook. Crack it open and take a look at what I can only describe as a work of pure obsession. The opening chapter by the author sheds light on the process to bring this book to life and it must be madness. Prior to the research and writing phase of the cookbook itself Magnus sets out to see what else the cookbook market has to offer on the buying all four hundred books about Nordic cooking available on Amazon. Now I don't want to be trivial and immature here but WTF. Firstly who knew there could possibly be four hundred titles on Nordic cooking in existance and what type of person would be possessed to buy them all? Not only buy them all but read them all. And you know what his summary of this cookbook extravaganza was... that almost all four hundred titles on Nordic cooking available on Amazon are crap. Yep you heard it, total crap.

What is a man, not only a man but one of the worlds great chefs to do when presented with the chance to publish yet another Nordic cookbook that could well be number four hundred and one crap Nordic cookbook available on Amazon. Well I guess he decides to nail it, to blow all the others out of the water, to intensely research every aspect of the topic from a culinary and historic perspective and to print the best goddamn book on Nordic cooking the world will ever likely to see, so that is quite simply what he did.

I will be totally upfront with you here. There is some weird shit in this cookbook. Fermented fish, stuffed Puffins, Boiled Seal Intestines with Blubber and Crowberries and how about a little Braised Pilot Whale. Let me just say that again for effect Braised Pilot Whale. I am sorry but I need to say it again WTF? I am not shitting you when I tell you there is a photograph in this book of a group of men, standing knee deep in the ocean that is crimson with the blood of pilot whales, their lifeless carcasses wallowing in waves of their own life source. A part of me wants to be outraged by that photo but as a meat eater I know I have no right to be. As meat eaters in any form we must accept that we kill to eat, the act of eating causes pleasure and therefore we are taking some form of pleasure in taking the life of a living creature for our own consumption. We also need to understand that not all countries consume the same animals as us and that it may offend our sensibilities to see whales being slaughtered and photographed for a cookbook but that very act has deep roots in the history of food and hunting for food in the Nordic region.

That history that is encased within these pages is quite astounding. The food is so diverse yet so linked to the land and nature and what they have to offer us humans for sustenance. There seems to be no lengths the Nordic people won't go to for a feed. Hanging off the side of a cliff to nab a birds eggs right from it's nest in the very place it nested to keep it's young from harm, yeah sure. Rounding up whales to the slaughter, why not? Mastering the art of fishing and foraging amid the ancient woodlands and within the hundreds of thousands of inland lakes that cover this region, of course. Magnus paints a picture of a rugged land and even more rugged people. And whilst many of those people may not still associate with scaling cliffs to scrounge for birds eggs they still hold their recipes that are steeped in that history close to their hearts.

In the two years Magnus spent travelling and researching he found common culinary links that tie the nations in the region together. The people of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands don't associate themselves as the all-encompassing title "Nordic", they associate with each individual countries national identity but Magnus wanted to present their shared history to highlight what all the nations have in common as well as those unique aspects that set them apart. He compiled over 11 000 articles including recipes, interviews, notes scribbled on napkins, newspaper cutouts, poll data and email conversations. On top of that he had over 8000 photographs. Just imagine the dedication it would take to first compile all of that and then meticulously sift through it all to weed out the important information. In doing this work I am convinced there will never be a need for another Nordic cookbook. There is no stone un-turned in Magnus's obsessive quest for the definitive book on Nordic cooking both past and present.

Getting to the practical side of things if you are like me you won't be able to go down to the supermarket and pick up a puffin to stuff and there won't be any whale meat at your local butchers. Magnus is well aware that not all the recipes are achievable by the average home cook and before you gripe about it he does warn you at the beginning that these recipes are there to complete the picture of the food of the region, not for you to go foraging on the sides of cliffs or wading in pools of blood in search of ingredients. The large majority of the recipes are more practical like roast duck with prunes and apples, now doesn't that sound more appealing. Or how about some lovely homemade almond biscuits with your next cuppa, I think we can all deal with that. I also love the illustrations that hark back to cookbooks of another era. This simple imagery alongside the stunning doubled paged landscape photography found all throughout this book and all taken by Magnus himself makes for one of the most unique cookbooks I have bought in sometime, which is no mean feat as I buy a lot of cookbooks.

Originally posted on Friday, 19 February 2016 by


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