Let's Eat

A book of recipes to celebrate a mother’s passion for food - and for life


The day after Dani Tucker’s mother, Sharon (Shally) died, Dani returned from the hospital to find all her mother’s handwritten recipe books laid out on her dining room table.

“I’d not been there for a week, as we’d been at Mom’s bedside all that time” explains the bubbly 32 year-old North West Londoner, “so I had no idea how the books had got there.”

Dani says the books planted the germ of an idea that she could use the recipes to celebrate her mother’s passion for food and for life.

“The books were overflowing with her favourite recipes and notes — a pinch of salt here a dash of sugar there” writes Dani in the introduction to The Social Kitchen, food for family and friends. “The books were filled with scraps of paper and memories, reflecting her passionate relationship with food and her love of anything beautiful, colourful and creative. There were recipes reaching as far back as my great-grandmothers on both sides — a legacy of deliciousness.”

Tucker, the eldest of Shally’s three children, still has no idea how the books even came to be in her home as she’d spent the whole week with her mother before Shally passed away at the age of 53, after a lifetime of painful auto-immune diseases. Within two years of her mother’s death she has turned her work into a beautiful and professional-looking cookery book.

Dani and siblings Megs and Ryan each write about their mother in the book, explaining that she trained as a chef in South Africa at the International Hotel School in Johannesburg, where she met their father, Lawrence Tucker. The couple came to London in 1979 to work — Shally worked for Prue Leith as a chef at the Kuwait Investment Office for a couple of years, before returning to South Africa briefly, to get married.

Once wed, the Tuckers returned to London and bought a hotel, The Bentinck House Hotel in W1 before expanding to a second hotel and then building a property business. Tucker’s younger sister, Megs, explains that Shally’s illness started six months after Megs was born in 1989, when psoriasis developed into a series of painfully debilitating conditions that left her fighting for her life.

Watching their mother’s fight with these conditions made the Tuckers resolve to raise awareness of these diseases and raise money to fund research into them. “The entire proceeds of this book will go to charity, Dermatrust — I’m not even taking out money towards the production costs for this print run” explains Dani.

With no idea how to produce a cookery book, Dani found herself a strong ally when one of her mother’s friends suggested she ask Shally’s former boss and family friend, Prue Leith.

“I didn’t think in million years she would have time to help us. I didn’t even know how to contact her” laughs Dani, who emailed Leith via a contact form on her website. “I explained who I was and what I was doing. She came back to me within a couple of hours.”

Leith, the chef, author and founder of Leiths’ School of Food and Wine, says she was touched by the Tuckers’ story: “I knew Shally’s parents — Dani’s grandparents — from South Africa. They were very generous to us when my children were little, so I wanted to return the favour. The premise was lovely — a specialized book of Jewish home cooking on the comfort side and a wonderful family muddle of pictures and stories; there’ll be an enormous interest in it.

“I suggested a few publishers but also felt that if you’re young and energetic, and prepared to spend time on social media working on your marketing then you could do better by self-publishing.”

Danni adds “Prue advised me that the best thing I could do would be to self-publish. She emailed all the top food magazine and newspaper editors introducing me and to ask for their photographer, food stylist and other contacts; And they actually emailed me back!”

Dani explains that with the help of Karen Barnes, editor of delicious magazine, she was able to put together a star team to write, edit, style, design and photograph the book. “They were all amazing. I wanted the book as professional as possible so hadn’t asked for special treatment, but once we started working on it together, we pulled together and really became a team. I now count them as my friends.”

“One of our biggest problems was reducing the quantities of Mom’s recipes” Dani adds with a smile. “Like all Jewish mothers, she cooked for a crowd, so all her recipes were for loads. She always made far too much food.”

The recipe collection includes Jewish South African favourites like knochen — a hearty, warming beef and barley soup; chutney chicken (slathered in Mrs Ball’s finest); Porcupine meatballs — studded with grains of rice which give them a “prickly” texture; curried fish; crunchies (known to us as flapjacks); cinnamon bulkas and kichel biscuits. All are beautifully photographed and interspersed with memories and old photographs of Shally at all stages of her life, from childhood onwards as well as some of her favourite things, like an old-fashioned telephone box bought from BT and a rusty old vintage Fiat now used as a planter.

“We used lots of Mom’s plates and serving spoons and knives in the photos and shot the images at home rather than in a studio” recalls Dani. “It saved money, but it also made it very personal.”

Each book comes with a bookmark of a length of ribbon taken from Shally’s own huge collection. “We felt she’d love that touch — my sister and I snipped hundreds of lengths of ribbon so each book as its own as a book mark”

The book is doing well already. With 1,000 copies sold in its first week, Dani is already thinking about a second print run. Shally’s family have done her proud.

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