Reviewer says
Life is Sweet, Hope and Greenwood | 2009 | UK

reviewed by JudithM


Life is Sweet: A collection of splendid old-fashioned confectionery
by Hope and Greenwood
Publisher: Ebury Press, Country: UK
ISBN: 9780091932664, Year: 2009
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.


Life is Sweet is about making various types of confectionery at home, traditional and modern. The authors are the owners of the Hope and Greenwood confectionery shops in London and are experienced sweet makers. The recipes include a wide range of cooked and uncooked sweets, from rich dark truffles and chocolate with chilli and lime to marshmallows, nougat, toffee apples, old fashioned ‘pulled’ toffees and salt licorice. If you enjoy astonishing your friends with new home cooked goodies, this is a book to add to your bookshelf.

Full review

Life is Sweet is a small hard cover book that is easy to hold and lies flat when opened, as all good cookery books should. The book is divided into five chapters, with each chapter devoted to one ingredient or one form of sweet making. Chapter Two, for example, has recipes for fudges and toffees, Chapter Three includes nuts, so there is a recipe for Buttered Brazils among others, while Chapter Five has fruity ingredients and includes a recipe Rhubarb and Custard Crumble Cups. There is a simple alphabetical index and a short list of stockists.

The layout for each recipe is clear and consistent, with the ingredients listed in a column to the left of the instructions, and an accompanying photograph of the finished sweets on a facing page. The photography is crisp and clean, usually showing what the end product should be, while the comments prefacing the recipes are light-hearted and fun.

The instructions are easy to read and follow, with additional information such as how long a given sugar syrup will take to reach the desired temperature or how quickly you should work, and why. This is invaluable information for a book with unusual content, where the user probably has no prior experience of this area of cookery. At the front of the book is a section of rules and terms for sugar boiling stages. Included is storage information for the different types of sweets, including information on those that may be stored in a freezer.

Sweets making at home is not difficult (just think about all of those mums making toffees and coconut ice for sale at school fetes) but the making does require a degree of care on the part of the cook. The author clearly states the need for care, both generally and in specific recipes and, where a specific size of saucepan is stated, further explains exactly why. Sugar syrup for sweets making is heated to well above boiling temperature and can cause nasty burns to anyone who is careless. Sugar syrup is often boiled very hard and bubbles of boiling sugar may rise high in the saucepan. Where ingredients are added to boiling hot syrup, spitting or frothing up may occur. The safety tips are a well considered and necessary addition.

Recipe quantities are given in metric and Imperial measurements and temperatures are given in both Celsius and Fahrenheit. Some ingredients may be difficult to come by in some countries but the bulk of recipes will translate to other English speaking countries.

Those are the good points, the not-so-good points must also be mentioned although, with the exception of one recipe, they are stylistic issues. I will detail that problem recipe first.

Chapter Four covers marshmallow and nougat making but the ingredients list for Fluffy Vanilla Marshmallows (p.94) is incomplete. Fortunately, the instructions mention both the ingredients and quantities so the careful reader will find all they need within the text. This sort of error is simply poor proof-reading.

Two authors are listed: Hope and Greenwood. But on the flyleaf the reader is told by “Miss” Hope, that the book is her effort, that “Mr” Greenwood “did absolutely nothing at all to contribute to this book apart from sampling a lot of hot chocolate.”

On the flyleaf and in the introduction, the tone of writing and word usage is curiously Girls Own Manual style (e.g. “Chums” and “Toodle-pip”) while the use of “Miss” and “Mr” in reference to herself or her partner, is curiously Victorian. Some readers will no doubt enjoy the language, and others will hate it. Fortunately, the recipes are written in everyday contemporary English and the rest may be ignored.

The book purports to be “A Collection of Splendid Old-Fashioned Confectionery” but recipes such as Chilli and Lime Shards or Peanut Pretzel Knobblies are hardly old fashioned. Then there is the uncooked Coconut Ice, where condensed milk is used in place of a boiled sugar and milk (or water) syrup; to my knowledge, coconut ice made on condensed milk first appeared in England some time in the late 1960s or early 1970s, so not exactly “old-fashioned” at all.

Next we come to the illustrations and “Handy Hints”. There are stylised illustrations of children boarding omnibuses, kittens drinking from a saucer of milk, children hand in hand, a boy playing with toys and on some recipe pages, heads with thought bubbles containing additional snippets of information. You might then think this is a book for children, but no, Life is Sweet is definitely a book for adults or, maybe, late teens if they have some cookery skills.

Many of the sweet recipes are for sweets that children will enjoy, but others are definitely intended for more mature palates. And not only do the few uncooked sweets require some heating of ingredients or an adult’s strength to combine the ingredients, but the “Handy Hints” range fromn serious notes, to recipe variations, to jokes and things like: “Eating worms or putting peanuts up your nose would be rather foolish, especially at your age.”

This is a book with character and oddities, presenting an interesting range of recipes. It’s not quite what it claims to be, with more than a touch of modernity casting a shadow over the claim of “old-fashioned” content.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 4. Recommended – good
Visual appeal: Attractive
Suitability as a gift: If the person is really interested
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Life is Sweet, Hope and Greenwood | 2009 | UK, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

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One Comment

  1. Posted 17 Dec 2009 at 10:42 | Permalink

    Thanks for the review. I like this style of book but rarely buy them. I like to gift them to people who will give them a good use.

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