The web page of the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford, now closed (as usual) for business: muses and misspills on books, jazz, poetry, stuff like false flags and smoke screen: was randomly decrepit and proven to be more than neo-bankrupt: it was so analogue it was anal and now deceased.
This book ‘feels’ right. Is produced by a shop in Summertown I’ve never been to (Summertown to me is a ghastly concoction of the town planners’ fevered mind, mock Corinthian pillars and garden gnome territory). Modern Baker: A New Way to Bake is hardly on my personal bookshelf for you wouldn’t catch me baking (!), that’s for others to do, I’ll stuff myself in their slipstream. Am still ignorant of what is sourdough, gluten, all the rest. Nonetheless given a choice I’d follow a natural diet before a synthetic one, the organic before a fluorescent E number. For sure this book is written for those lucky enough to bake for me.
I’m told The Modern Baker’s owners have a marketing ancestry, and it shows. Ebury Press is the Rolls Royce publisher of this type of book, a brilliant coup to be caught in their net. The soft and mottled book illustration works so well – the bread, biscuit and cake fleck off their pages, leastways the imagined crumbs excite my taste buds. Neat photos, endpaper frills and illustration (Lauren Child’s watered-down pantry sketchbook meets those tinted illustrations in early Mrs Beeton cookery books) folded in with the text, though not really enough words in its mixing bowl for me, and those there are… well, randomly inserted like stray currants accidentally spilt. It’s very much for the modern impatient eye that has been digitally trained. The book is a wonderful parchment paper of Puritanical zeal, alerts us to the hollow nutrition that is saccharin artifice: a gut’s gotta stay healthy, we are told. Besides, all the natural sugars, certainly fruit, are fibresome and flavoursome enough, and we learn that they are not just indulgent (with all its wicked overtones), but tasty, wholesome, and a treat. We know all this already, yawn yawn, but the book wins me over totally coz the holy evensong side of baking is presented as fun, and as reward rather than punishment, the Gospel antidote (it describes itself as a “whole larder full of Good News”) to the Pentateuchal, refined sugar and coronary TV chef. This book is bright and breezy, but you gotta wanna recite its Apostle’s Creed (“fermenting microbes,” all that malarkey). But actually you shouldn’t mistake it for a culinary evensong. It’s a rave. We meet my mates Skunk and Stig in the car park, they give us the directions to the rave but they don’t sell us E(number)s, no, no. When there we chant a sourdough Magnificat and partake of Communion – a slug of wine but loads and loads and loads of tasteful bread.
This book will sell by the pudding basin at Christmas, and it deserves to; it’s real good, obv, but it deserves to most of all because it’s produced by that doyenne of retailer, the local shop. Don’t suppose you’d travel to this shop if not within its hinterland (though you should, I should), for it is ambitious enough to serve its local community, and that really is ambition these days. Buy it on Amazon if you want: thirty pieces of silver cheaper. It’s in the Beatnik also, a fiver off cover price. Oh yeh, the price is a joke. It’s printed on the cover so that we all pretend we are generous as common sense dictates we sell it for less. But only the big boys make up the lost £5, all the local shops lose out. That’s the way of the world, and for that indigestion we need more than sourdough. Perhaps more cookery books like this one would be a start.
Modern Baker: A New Way to Bake by Melissa Sharp (with Lindsay Stark) is published by Ebury Press, £26 (£21 in the Albion Beatnik)