Eat Hackney Cookbook is a collection of 30 “local recipes from around the world” by food blogger and travel photographer Helena Smith.
Smith lives and works in central Hackney, and drew the idea for the book out of her blog, EatHackney.
She said: “All the actual recipes in the book come from people who live in Hackney: people from different backgrounds and cultures who have become part of Hackney and work in restaurants, cafés and community projects in the area.’’
The cookbook launch party took place last Friday in the warm atmosphere of Russet café in Hackney Downs Studios. East London Lines was there for the occasion where there was music, wine and a mindblowing smell of food in the air.
We tried the Saffron Potato Kookoo (a Persian recipe by Soli Zardosht that can be found at Cafe OTO in Dalston and at Soli’s stall on Broadway Market), Mung bean curry or ‘Mugg’ (a traditional family recipe from Kenya) and Kanelbullar (Swedish cinnamon buns)- recipes that can all be found in the cookbook.
We took some extra cinnamon buns for the road, covered in a napkin, and a free copy of the cookbook.
“I’ve been doing the blog for about 2 years and it’s not restaurant reviews based. I thought there were already lots of restaurant reviews sites, and people out there more skilled than me to do that. The blog is about food but it’s more about where the people come from.” Helena said.
She sees food as a way into people’s cultures. She has travelled a lot around the UK. She went to Australia earlier this year, as well as Scotland, where she comes from. As a food blogger Helena dug deeper into the origin of the recipes she was writing about. While working on her blog she traveled around multicultural Hackney and discovered recipes created by people from all over the world, who have become part of the vibrant Hackney community by living and working in the area.
“I am writing about food and photographing food in general, but I like the idea of doing that locally, where there are actually people from everywhere,’’ Helena said.
“The whole ‘food thing’ that we have going on is fantastic but it’s good to remember there are people who don’t have enough to satisfy their basic needs,”
As well as providing a nutritious meal to over 100 vulnerable people each week in the borough, the two charities celebrate the social side of sharing food.
Helena said: “For me, the connection betwen the two charities is food; they feed people, and that’s a very natural link.
“They don’t have a huge amount of funding but they manage to do what they do with help from volunteers in a very consistent and caring way. They think about what they serve: a full three course meal that they try to make as nutritious as they can. They are located in church halls so people can sit down, get warm and talk to each other. There is a sense of community. It might seem unusual, but the people who work for the charities sit and mix with the people who use their help.‘’
What also caught our attention was the EatHackney logo on Helena’s blog: the characters were created by graffiti artist Ben Eine, who is known for his alphabet lettering on the shutters of many independent shops and cafés around East London.
“I was just struck by Eine’s letters, I thought they were really beautiful,” Helena said. “They are painted on shop shutters and I like how you only see them when the shop is closed: they are invisible most of the time.”
Helena concluded: “I hope the book can serve as an insider’s map for a food-based cultural journey around Hackney.”
Food is a way into people’s home culture, and so are the 30 recipes in the 57 pages of the Eat Hackney Cookbook, including everything from vegetarian dishes to fish, meat dishes, desserts and cocktail making recipes.
The recipe for Sri Lankan fish curry came from Joyce Fernando, one of the volunteer cooks for North London Action for the Homeless. “It would be turned down in a restaurant because it’s too spicy,” Helena said. “I like having local, authentic recipes.”
People’s Kitchen, a sociable project that takes place every Sunday at Passing Clouds, near Dalston, contributed their Kueh Kodok Malaysian (Malaysian banana fritters). As Helena explains in her book, the People’s Kitchen’s volunteers collect food from Hackney shops that would otherwise be thrown away. She said: “They realised that many of the things we want and need in life are already there around us, and don’t have to cost the world.”
Nana’s Cafe in Clapton contributed their Victoria Sponge recipe. Other recipes include Latila and Urvais Parvais’s mung bean curry from restaurant Guajarati Rasoi in Bradbury Street, an asparagus recipe from Frizzante Cafe in Hackney City Farm or Lucie Galland’s French tarte à la tomate, which is usually cooked at the Evering Road Kitchen Garden at St Paul’s, West Hackney.
Our own reporter, Olivia Cassano turned into a chef for the day and tried the American cornmeal muffins recipe herself. This recipe comes from Spence Bakery in Stoke Newington, which supports North London Action for the Homeless with regular food donations.
She said: “Cornmeal (or cornbread) is commonly portrayed as a classic Southern food, but it actually originates in Native American history. The recipe is easy, quick, and straightforward, all ingredients can be found at your local supermarket and no master chef skills are required. The only thing to make sure of is to not over-mix the ingredients, so to avoid a hard bread-like consistency and ensure your muffins turn out soft and fluffy.
“Despite its simplicity, the recipe yields an appetizing and versatile pastry: try serving with jam and tea as an afternoon treat or add cheese and spices to the batter if you prefer savory. Or perhaps why not try it the Southern way and pour maple syrup on top. Either way, its best enjoyed fresh out of the oven!”
You can buy the book for £5 online from www.eathackney.com, or in person from L’Epicerie on Chatsworth Road, Lower Clapton or Unpackaged on Richmond Road, London Fields.