THE idea of collecting “food memories” as a way of consolidating a nation’s indigenous food culture has been given quite an airing recently, not least in Scotland as it strives to reclaim its once-proud culinary clout. Back in the day, it was at the forefront of all the traditional techniques (mastered mainly by women) that have come back into vogue: fermenting, foraging, smoking; using ancient grains beremeal and barley; offal and sweetbreads; broths; heritage greenery like kale, sea lettuce, pine oil. Now Scotland’s historic food culture is gradually finding a new expression, much of it curated by a new generation of women cooks and chefs. Kailyard has become cool. Suggestions that contemporary Scots cuisine owes its new-found identity to the New Nordic movement are now rejected as wrong to the point of insulting.

That’s good. It demonstrates a growing confidence. Looking back has – arguably – helped build a new foodie future. All too evidently, other countries don’t have that luxury. War-torn Syria, for example, finds its great and ancient food culture shattered as its people flee and disperse to safety in other countries around the globe.

But two young women have seen to it that all is not lost. Syrian-born Itab Azzam, a London-based film-maker and theatre producer, has joined forces with Dina Mousawi, a British-Iraqi actor who grew up in Baghdad and fled during the Iraq war, to produce a collection of recipes given to them by Syrian women now living in tents, bedsits and on the street, and those now living in the UK who have developed an intensifying yearning for the food from home. The authors spent months with these women cooking with them, learning their recipes and listening to stories from home, and in the process re-learned their own culinary roots.

The resulting book, Syria: Recipes from Home, just published in London by Orion, is way more than a cookbook. Food photography is interspersed with moving first-person reportage from Damascus, Beirut, Palestine and Raqqa (now called The Square of Hell since becoming Islamic State’s preferred location for public beheadings). It seems that no matter what adversity the women – and mothers – face, food remains central to life. The authors put it slightly oddly: “The topsy-turvy politics of the Middle East are still producing cultural fusion and creativity, even if at heart-breaking human cost. We wanted to honour these brave women who are fighting back against the destruction of their home with the only weapons they have: pots and pans.” The intention, though, is noble: to celebrate what food can mean to an individual, a family – and a nation.

And so we read about the bedrocks of Syrian cuisine. Tahini, pomegranate, flatbreads, cumin, red lentils. Omelettes seasoned with Aleppo pepper; freekeh, labneh, smoked rice, grape molasses, sugar and caffeine. About flavour and smell and colour and community.

These women’s food memories aren’t from the far and distant past, as Scotland’s may be; they’re actual and under serious threat for reasons other than our own infamous (if fading) cultural cringe. Which only heightens the power of food to comfort, unite and strengthen.