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  • Susan Low

Coming soon... Home Food: Recipes to Comfort and Connect

Few people in with the food world will be unfamiliar with the Ukrainian-born chef, food writer and author Olia Hercules, whose latest book, Home Food, will be published later this week. Since her previous book, Summer Kitchens, was published, Hercules now has a new role: that of political activist.

The world changed on 24 February when Putin’s troops invaded Ukraine. Overnight we all became familiar with Ukraine’s geography and history. But Hercules’s life has been transformed. The busy writer and mother of two young children now channels her considerable energy, talent (and rage) into fighting back. Food and cooking have become a daily act of resistance; food an antidote to the horrors of war.

Following the invasion, it didn’t take long for Olia and several colleagues to set up #CookForUkraine, which so far has raised more £738,000 to help support families in Ukraine who have been affected by the war.

Olia has some 145,000 followers on Instagram and her daily posts help to keep them up to date on what is happening on the ground in Ukraine – her brother Sasha is a soldier fighting in the south of the country, where Olia grew up. She also raises funds through her Patreon account to help support and rebuild Ukraine.

Home Food is Olia’s fourth cookbook, and it is her most personal, autobiographical, heartfelt and (IMHO) absolute best yet. Ironically, it was written during a time of hardship – during the long Covid lockdown, when staying at home wasn’t so much a choice as a (legally enforced) necessity. It was a time when many home cooks learned to see putting dinner on the table as less of a daily chore than a daily chance to create, connect and nourish.

That sense of nourishment is driving force behind this book. It goes without saying that the recipes are wonderful. Olia writes that, to make it into the book, each recipe had to pass two vital tests: ‘the test of universal deliciousness’ and ‘the cooking enjoyment factor’. The recipes I’ve cooked pass both with flying colours. That it was photographed by Joe Woodhouse, Hercules’ husband (and also a food writer) makes it even more intimate.

Olia no doubt thought that, by the time the book was launched, the Covid cloud would have lifted, and that the skies would be brighter, the world a better, more positive place. Instead, Putin’s naked aggression has compounded fear and uncertainty worldwide, threatening to plunge the world’s poorest nations into famine. Yet another example, if one were needed, of how food can be used a weapon of war.

Yet what shines out in this book is that, above all, food has to power to comfort and connect us, to console, to express love. And to resist.

Home Food: Recipes to Comfort and Connect (£26), is published by Bloomsbury on 7 July; it is available to pre-order now.

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