Cookbooks of my life by Ben Mervis

Writer, researcher and food expert Ben Mervis (MA 2012) is originally from Pennsylvania in the USA, but came to UofG to study medieval history after gaining a scholarship, and now calls Glasgow home. In 2016, Ben founded the food magazine 'Fare', which combines an in-depth look at a city's food and culture with Ben's interest in historical context, all in print format. "I wanted to create a 'slow' experience in firm opposition to clickbait digital media,” he says. Ben is also the author of 'The British Cook Book.' Here, he tells us about the cookbooks that have influenced his career and life.
The cookbook with my absolute favourite dishes 
'The Book of St John' by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver. This book, front to back, is my perfect menu, especially the bread and butter pudding with butterscotch sauce. My dream pud ... well, that or the ginger loaf with butterscotch sauce and ice cream.

My favourite cities to eat in – apart from Glasgow – are Istanbul and Copenhagen. They’re wildly different: Istanbul is a riot of sounds and smells, while Copenhagen's food scene has absolutely exploded in the last couple of decades." 

The cookbook by my favourite chef 
I can’t pick a favourite chef, but 'Cooking: Simply and Well, for One or Many' by Jeremy Lee is so personal to him and his tastes as a chef. The recipes get at these almost essential hungers that we all have, especially living seasonally here in the UK.

The best vintage cookbook I’ve read 
Dorothy Hartley’s 'Food in England'. I read this early on in the process of writing my own book and I had so many revelations. It’s clearly quite dated, but it is just a real wealth of wisdom and often overlooked in favour of someone more high profile like Elizabeth David.

The cookbook that gives the greatest sense of place 
For this I could choose so many, but the first thing to come to mind is 'Five Seasons of Jam' by Lillie O'Brien – that book is so intensely a product of seasonality throughout the whole year, of freshness and quality, and new ideas. With jam you are just amplifying a fantastic product. There’s nowhere to hide.

ben mervis eating breakfas

Ben taste-tests the delights of 'a Scottish caff'. [Photo: Daniel Tulloch]

The best plant-based cookbook I’ve read
'East' by Meera Sodha. Brilliant recipes, lots of veggie and vegan dishes that are good eating and fun to make. Very accessible too.

The cookbook I’m reading now 
I’m cheating because I’ve not actually dug in yet, but 'SIFT' by Nicola Lamb has arrived on my doorstep and looks absolutely brilliant. Not that I need any more encouragement to start baking (I’ve a big sweet tooth), but Nicola is so deeply knowledgeable on the topic.
Ben is currently working on a handful of new book projects, "enough to keep me active and drive me a little mad", as well as new issues of 'Fare', which is published every six months and he says that, this year, "We’ve got two absolute belters to share! I’m so excited." Belter no.1, available from July, takes a look at Naples, while the following issue is a closely guarded secret: "We're going to south-east Asia ... but I can't share where yet!"

This article was first published June 2024.

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