At this time of year I can’t help asking myself if we really need cookbooks any more. Thousands of them cram our bookshops hoping to be chosen as Christmas gifts, yet do we really use them? A recent visit to a friend of mine was a case in point. Clearing out a store cupboard, she was sitting at her kitchen table surrounded by dusty cookbooks collected over the years. She had a Delia pile, a Nigel pile, a Nigella pile and an Ottolenghi pile. Each contained recipes that prompted fond memories. But then, searching for something to make for that evening’s dinner, she simply consulted her iPad. Following recipes online is something most of us do. Nevertheless, I can’t deny the sheer excitement of opening a new book full of fresh ideas. Generally speaking, this year’s diverse crop are beautifully produced and infinitely inspiring. Yet they seem to pose another question: what exactly is British (or Scottish) cuisine?

The publication in May of the beautifully designed Cook [nb forward slash through the second ‘o’], Natural Flavours from a Nordic Kitchen (Clearview, £30), by the former Noma gastronomic advisor Mikkel Karstad, head chef at the Danish Parliament, put the focus of the foodie world on the so-called arc of gastronomy, or the potential of ancient Scots cuisine to become as fashionable as that of the Scandinavian countries. Think pickled green strawberries, hay-grilled langoustine, venison broth with barley, all featured here.

But probably the most talked-about cookbook of the year is Magnus Nilsson’s Nordic Cook Book (Phaidon, £29.95) which, at a stonking 750 pages and containing 700 recipes, appears to nail the pared-down ethos of the traditional cooking of Denmark, Finland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Norway and Sweden. Among the recipes for dishes such as kale braised in ham stock with cream and brown sugar and cold poached pike are fond photographs of the landscapes so dear to the author, who is head chef of Faviken Magasinet restaurant in Sweden.

Scandi cuisine – which Nilsson says “puts the outside onto your plate” – has ushered in the current UK vogue for the ancient culinary arts of foraging, fermenting, curing, infusing and smoking indigenous plants and ingredients, and it does have particular resonance in Scotland, with its empathetic terroir; Nilsson’s wild berries, kale, potatoes, grains, nuts, seeds, herring, white fish and seafood underpin ancient Scots cooking too. There is plenty of evidence that turning inwards to use only locally-sourced or foraged seasonal ingredients, and deploying innovative techniques to intensify their flavours and colours in apparently simple presentations, has taken off big-time in the most progressive Scottish pubs, cafes and restaurants. So far, though, this hasn’t translated into book form – but watch this space.

Marian Armitage’s Shetland Food and Cooking (The Shetland Times, £20), reprinted this year, is the closest we get geographically to Scandinavia, though the recipes illustrated are distinct to the island. Krappin and Stap, for example, a dish of fish livers and oatmeal stuffed into the cleaned head of a ling, and Sheep’s Puddeens, using sheep’s suet, onions, dried fruit, golden syrup and mixed spice, then simmered for four hours, aren’t anything I’ve seen in Scandi cuisine, though mackerel with rhubarb is surely one that would make the grade.

Inevitably, I suppose, the Scandi obsession has spawned what seems to me a rather anguished search for the soul of British cookery and a yearning (at least from south of the Border, where the vast majority of UK cookbooks are published), to identify what exactly it looks like. Is it Tom Kerridge’s “proper everyday food” like roast chicken and gravy, Ottolenghi’s multi-layered Middle Eastern a la Nopi, or Nigel’s quietly passionate seasonal eclecticism? Are Jamie’s Everyday Super Food (Michael Joseph, £20) and Nigella’s Feel Good Food (Chatto & Windus, £26) set to herald a new wave of lean, mean British cooking for 2016?

The sheer diversity of cooking styles – not to mention the volume of original published recipes – is surely proof of the unprecedented food revolution that is currently underway, even if it does appear to be a bit of a mash-up. I rather enjoyed seeing a recent edition of the mighty Larousse Gastronomique (Hamlyn, £60, first published in 1938) placed in the middle of a display of this year’s crop of cookbooks at my local branch of Waterstone’s. It was as if someone wanted to remind us of the importance of classical French techniques in all styles of cooking.

This existential unease has given rise to a rather wistful backwards gaze to the way we used to eat, and a championing of noshtalgia or comfort food (steamed puddings, custard, trifle, mash). Witness the Beeb’s new inamorata, the 80-year-old Mary Berry who, at the last count, has nine cookbooks currently on sale, half of them published by BBC Books and centred on baking, and whose most recent, Mary Berry’s Favourites, features such back-to-basics main dishes as Lamb Fore Shanks with English vegetables. Berry has rock-solid cooking credentials going back decades. That her career has been reborn thanks to GBBO and the revival of interest in home baking says much about our confusion over whether traditional British cooking was really all about sweets and school dinner stodge. Even the contestants on the current series of MasterChef The Professionals repeat the “childhood memories” mantra as they whip up modern versions of their granny’s puddings.

The re-release of Margueritte Patten’s A Century of British Cooking (Grub Street, £15), first published in 1999 and covering the years between 1900 and 2000, chimes with that nostalgia. It’s a fascinating (and quite moving) historical record of how and what we ate, decade by decade, by the former wartime home economist for the Ministry of War who died aged 99 in June this year (hence the re-issue). I do wonder, though, who would be seriously interested in making a Glace Fruit Souffle using sugared cherries, or condensed milk fruitcake from the 1940s. I feel the same way about the “worthy-but-whatevs” WI Cook Book: The First 100 Years, edited by Mary Gwynn (Ebury, £20). Chicken mousse with fresh peas and tarragon with gipsy creams to follow, anyone?

And it doesn’t stop there. You’ll Have Had Yer Tea? Teasured Tastes of Scotland (VisitScotland, free), just published, contains over 40 recipes and food memories submitted by members of the public from all over Scotland between May and October 2015, and they cover everything from foraged langoustines to stovies to Singin’ Hinnies. Some contributors in their 20s and 30s remember the food they ate with their grandparents, rather than their parents; they were the generation who, in the 1970s and 1980s, shunned cooking from scratch for the chicken casserole made with a tin of condensed chicken soup, and thought the advent of the reconstituted Vesta chicken curry was the bee’s knees. Thus many cooking skills were lost, and the cycle of passing down recipes from generation to generation was lost. So Treasured Tastes, with its potential to reinvigorate traditional Scottish cooking and to encourage more families to eat together at the table and create new food memories, has arguably come at just the right time.

If it helps us reconnect with food and cooking, then perhaps noshtalgia does have its merits after all. Just so long as it doesn’t stop us looking outwards, southwards and northwards, at the same time.