The death of the book as we know it was predicted long ago. By now we should have eschewed paper for its more ‘sophisticated’ virtual counterpart. Yet nothing replaces a worn out paperback, be it the scrawled name of a previous owner on the inside front cover or the damp smell of some fusty shelf in a secondhand bookshop. My swollen copy of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, which fell in the bath when I was 16, provides a parallel narrative to Hardy’s tragedy. Jake Tilson’s In At The Deep End is packed with narratives beyond the written word – it is a scrapbook of photos, sketches, typology and memories as well as being an entertaining and informative guide to some of the best ways of eating fish from Venice to Tokyo. Seven downloadable podcasts add life, sound, extra recipes and an extra dimension to the book.
“Venice has a careful, disheveled and almost willful sense of abandonment as it crumbles into the lagoon.” As apt to describe Berlusconi as it is one of the world’s greatest cities, Tilson’s sojourn in Venice makes me want to move there. Now. From sausage-stuffed cuttlefish soup to sweet ‘n’ sour sardines, Venice is the first stop along the route of curing his ichthyophobia, a fear of fish and a condition that his adeptness with some of the more slippery customers of our seas, leads me to doubt as necessitating any medication.
From Venice to Sweden, Scotland on to New York, Australia into Japan and finally landing back in Peckham, with a transformed perspective on all things fishy, Tilson escorts his reader both as companion and tutor. We are gently schooled on some of the more ominous issues of our oceans while sharing intimate family moments such as Hannah and Abigail choosing crabs as pets. Having already spent three years hot on the wriggling tail of eels, for the art project A Net Of Eels, he is quietly already a bit of an expert on fish stocks.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme Jake reported his views on the Seaweb Seafood Summit and in the book advocates a three-way process to quell the conscience of fish eaters without becoming sanctimonious with it:
1) Use seafood consumer guides to help you with what fish you should be eating – Greenpeace or WWF tend to be the most objective.
2) Buy from a sustainable source, eg labeled with the Marine Stewardship Council logo.
3) Most importantly if we are to make a real difference: lobby MPs and join action groups.
This book is the manifestation of a creative and imaginative mind put to work on fish. The result is genuine engagement with food on a personal and familial level; we become part of the Tilson family trip around the world. Spontaneity bursts out of the page alongside knowledge and passion for the scaly, the molluscs, the crustaceans, the endangered. It blows the glossy celebrity hardbacks out of the water – Jake appears only occasionally, almost incidentally, ceding centre stage to the products, the producers and the places. A Christmas must-have for family or friends who think they have the full collection of celebrity cookbooks. This one won’t quite fit the normal spec, thankfully. To be in with a chance of winning a copy of In At The Deep End, simply subscribe to this blog or leave a comment on one of the blog postings. The draw will take place on 23 November. Good luck!
Pugliese mussels with cannellini beans and pasta:
2 x 500g cans cannellini beans
6 cloves finely chopped garlic
4 tbsps olive oil
15 halved cherry tomatoes
1.2kg live mussels
Put on a big pan of water for the pasta. In a small pan, heat the cannellini beans, mashing about a third and adding a little water if needed. Add pasta to the boiling water. In a large deep frying pan (that has a lid), fry the garlic in the olive oil and add the tomatoes, cooking for about 5 mins, squashing them a little. Pile the mussels on top of the tomatoes and put the lid on, bring to the boil and cook until the mussels pop open. Take the pan off the heat, throw away any mussels that haven’t opened and take out half the shells. Put the frying pan back on a gentle heat until the pasta is cooked, drain and heap it onto the mussels in the frying pan and stir, add the beans and the rest of the mussels. Eat in a wide bowl with a spoon.