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Jessie Burton: ‘I don’t think I tried an apple or an orange until I was 15’ | Food

When I met my partner he said: “I just want to cook for you, so you can get on with your writing.” It was very romantic, actually. And I remember when he moved in, he made this ragu and we still talk about it: “Can you ever make that ragu like that again?” You know when you are first falling in love, you think: “Oh my God, everything’s amazing!” So he has made subsequent ragus and they’ve been equally delicious but there’s something about the first ragu, because it was infused with love.

I really don’t love cooking. I find I’ve poured enough of my patience and discipline and experimentation into writing that I just can’t be bothered.

I do, though, like baking cakes. It always happens once I’ve finished a novel. I start coming back into myself and I like to do something practical but creative with my hands. But then invariably, oh God, I will misread the ingredients or I’ll turn the oven on wrong and turn the grill on instead. Recently, I actually grilled some flapjacks. But I do enjoy the occasional cake baking because you get this lovely thing at the end of it. And it’s easier than writing a book.

My hunger increases when I start working. It’s a reward mentality and my rewards are always chocolate biscuits, chocolate bars, Kinder bars – anything nursery food-y, or sweets-after-school. Everything is quite childlike. I’m not going to reward myself with some carrot sticks, as much as I try.

My mum was the doyenne of the quiche. And she would make pies, a lovely baked alaska, she was really good at puddings, things like profiteroles. We always had homemade food – even though she had a full-time job – and she was quite experimental for the early 1990s. I remember just being like: “Err, what’s this? It’s gross.” To which now I just think: “Oh, what an ungrateful little shit.”

When I was a child, I hated raw fruit. I was a huge veggie eater, there wasn’t a vegetable I wouldn’t eat. But I don’t think I tried an apple or an orange until I was about 15. I found the flesh, the risk of it, quite worrisome, because you didn’t know what you were going to get when you bit into it. You didn’t know if it was going to be rotten. God, I sound like such a weirdo!

In my 20s, I was acting and we just subsisted on Pret a Manger baguettes, and maybe a soup. You’re not quite running on fumes, but the culture isn’t particularly focused on eating – for various reasons.

Food in my books is symbolic to a degree, of what’s going on in the society. So there’s the commentary on the sugar trade in The Miniaturist, the murky reality behind that; and the pineapple in The House of Fortune, which is a symbol of luxury, but then there’s this attempt to wrench it from its homeland and cultivate it in cold weather [in early 18th-century Amsterdam], which I found an interesting commentary as well on colonialism.

I have really enjoyed writing the character of Cornelia [in The House of Fortune], who is a fantastic cook. The recipes I give to her are from a book called The Sensible Cook: Dutch Foodways in the Old and New World. It was published in the 1680s and has things like sturgeon stuffed with carrots, or duck … there’s a lot of stuffing. The only thing that we’ve made from it – actually, it’s not me, it’s my partner – are those little poffertjes pancakes. For one of my birthdays, he bought me a proper poffertjes pan, so we have those on high days and holidays. That’s as far as I’ve gone.

I do love food, and I have happy memories around that. It’s just odd, they’ve never really been created by me. They’ve been created for me by others. And I’m very grateful for that; that’s a lovely position to be in.

My favourite things

Picnic food. So cheese on crackers with chutney, and my partner makes sausage rolls from scratch.

I love a margarita. The only time I’ve ever used my Nutribullet is to make a margarita, so I put all the triple sec, the Patrón Silver, lime juice and ice in and you get this kind of frozen margarita.

Place to eat
At home. Life is so busy sometimes, it’s just so nice to just sit together and eat.

Dish to make
I do get a lot of pleasure making Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen chocolate brownies. The mixture is so glistening and enticing, there’s so much chocolate in it. Then you give them to people and you’re extremely popular for a few hours.

Jessie Burton’s latest novel, The House of Fortune, is out now (Picador, £16.99. To support the Guardian and the Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply.

Abdullah Anaman
Abdullah Anaman
I am a highly competent IT professional with a proven track record in designing websites, building apps etc. I have strong technical skills as well as excellent interpersonal skills, enabling me to interact with a wide range of clients.


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