Being a massive fan of her perpetually elegant sister, I had to snap up a bit of the Middleton magic when I heard that Pippa Middleton had released a book. Celebrate is, unsurprisingly, a book dedicated to all things celebratory, and is, in a rather twee fashion, split into four sections by season. Pippa kicks off with Hallowe’en and autumnal Sunday lunches, and rounds the book up with the barbecues, camping trips and picnics of summer.
To be honest, I bought the book before reading any other reviews, lured in by brand Middleton. Before I read it myself, though, I decided to see what other people were saying about it. I was a little suspicious as I managed to pick it up for £6.25, down from its RRP of £25, just a few weeks after its much-anticipated release. I was surprised to find swathes of damning reviews, criticising the pages upon pages of softly focused shots of Middleton and the patronising ‘advice’ offered throughout (case in point: “Use sticks and skewers for finger food; they are more practical for those with gloves on.”) I rarely see quite so much negative press on what is effectively an embellished recipe book, so I decided to get stuck in myself.
I think that one of the most positive things about Celebrate, contrary to what many critics have said, is the photography. When you buy a book with a name like Celebrate, you’re buying into the idea of happy occasions and fun and pleasantries. You need to be tempted into Middleton’s world, and assured by the artfully arranged shots of winter squashes and happy children flipping pancakes that you too can live like someone with royal connections. In that respect, the photos really work: they evoke ideas of relaxation and ‘casual fun’, and surely that’s how everyone wants their celebrations to come across? The only problem is that I’m not entirely convinced that this is how Pippa Middleton herself celebrates. I’d love to say I can honestly picture her slaving away in the kitchen to prepare an Easter trifle topped with Mini Eggs, but I somewhat doubt that this is an entirely accurate reflection of Easter at the Middletons’.
Another thing I like is the recipes themselves. A lot of them are very traditional and nothing we haven’t seen before, and it’s very likely that most people own the majority of these recipes in myriad other books. However, there are a few inspired additions, such as the rainbow cake for a child’s birthday party, and the Nutella madeleines look divine stacked up on a quaint little cake stand surrounded by pink and lilac blooms. If you’re looking for recipes to wake up your tastebuds and revolutionise the way you eat, this isn’t the book to buy. But if you want all of your classic English recipes in one place, illustrated with vibrant, enticing photography to boot, then you should be happy enough with this collection of Victoria sponges, coffee cake and finger sandwiches.
Unfortunately, though, the critics were completely right about the ‘advice’ sprinkled liberally throughout the book. Unnecessary adjectives add nothing to the sentiment: ‘crunchy’ toast, a ‘sharp’ pencil to accompany dad’s ‘favourite crossword’ and ‘a warm croissant straight from the oven’ can all be found as suggested components of breakfast in bed. It pains me to say it, but the writing is just a little bit sloppy. If all of the flowery language had been edited out, the book would probably be about half the size. Of course, it needs a degree of description to get people excited and inspired, but whose eyes will light up at the thought of toast being ‘crunchy’?
Lots of the non-food pages also contribute nothing new. Again, I felt as though I should appreciate the thought, but I’m not sure that instructions to ‘look up the lyrics of the songs below’ on a page about camping songs really belong in a printed book. Likewise, the problem is highlighted in Middleton’s admission, on a page about star gazing: “You’ll also find better guidance on how to find [the stars] in the night sky than I can manage in this book because it depends on which hemisphere you are in.” It just feels a little lazy, doesn’t it? I’d rather you either went the whole hog and provided us with the information you’re vaguely mentioning, or didn’t include it at all.
Overall, despite its obvious flaws, I do quite like this book. If nothing else, it’s nice to look at. I spent a good couple of hours poring over the pretty pages; particularly in the gorgeous Afternoon Tea section, festooned with lime green, lemon yellow and punchy pink. Another thing I found is that it made me feel quite fond of Pippa Middleton. Although I don’t believe for a second that she has ever partaken in ‘Easter crafts’ as she suggests, she comes across as a very warm, eager character. Her advice is not always useful, but it does always feel like she means well. If you like the cute and bijou, you’ll definitely get some pleasure out of a book containing a recipe for a recipe for ice-cream shaped like a sandcastle. This book won’t teach you anything new. In a way, though, it doesn’t matter: the same could be said of all but the most radical cookbooks, and while it’s almost certainly not the authentic Middleton experience, the lifestyle it presents is still one that most people would aspire to.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to test the theory that glitter adds festive twinkle to pine cones. I can hardly believe it, but if that’s what Pippa Middleton claims…