It is stunning in Seattle at the moment. Sun. Warmth. As soon as I have this post up, I’ll be retiring to the garden to prep, weed, fiddle, and poke around. Or I will cuddle up on my gorgeous orange hammock with my post-it note marked copy of Tender and dream.
You see, I’m way past longing for fresh vegetables other than the ever-dependable kale and chard. I am ready for dinner made from what I grow in the garden. I want to sample, snip, pick, and dig. And I am more than ready for perma-dirt under my nails. I’m feeling a bit desperate, truth be told.
Usually I have a bit more variety at this point, but apparently I overwintered chard. Chard period. Chard only. A hell of a lot of chard. While it is still to early for warm season crops, I have sown loads of lettuce, arugula, radish, and peas, so at least I have beds full of tender seedlings and sprouts. My perennial herbs are perfect and being added to just about everything. The rhubarb is looking lovely and the fruit blossoms are holding promise. I’m ready.
Nigel’s book starts with an engaging introduction that covers his urge to garden as well as his thirst for knowledge about where the food he eats comes from. He discusses his property (similar in size to an average US urban lot), soil, seeds, compost and pests he encounters (from slugs to foxes.) Yes, this is a cookbook for the cook that wants to be connected to food they prepare. The cook that knows the pleasure of eating something you have grown yourself, finds meaning in talking to farmers at the market, or is delighted by fresh picked vegetables and the act of turning them into a sustainable and nourishing meal.
He covers 29 vegetables, each in a separate chapter. In each, he introduces the vegetable by way of a story. He then moves to the garden – where it all starts – with growing information and a bit of his garden diary from sowing to harvest, as well as descriptions of varieties. He then moves to the kitchen where he covers how the fresh vegetable is used, ideal seasonings, and a host of tips/suggestions. Suggestions might include storage, preserving or organic pest prevention in the garden, along with a whole broad swath of other ideas.
Finally, he includes 5-10 recipes that highlight the vegetable. This isn’t an entirely vegetarian cookbook, in fact he uses bits of bacon or ham frequently. Meat though, when used, is usually done sparingly.
The recipes are seasonal, simple, beautiful, and down-to-earth. I appreciate his humor Regarding Jerusalem artichokes he states: “Wind is almost inevitable. Just go with it.” He knows. Farts are funny. And, they are most certainly not a reason to not enjoy something delicious! On parsnips “...their sweetness is welcome in any month from October to March. They feel awkward in summer.” Farty ‘chokes and awkward parsnips. Love it.
I love his very British way of being and his writing is wonderful. Nigel is a writer first, gardener and cook second. It is a rare cookbook that I want to read word-for-word, reluctant to miss a sentence. Sure, I read cookbooks – but mostly to thumb through or skim. He combines 3 of my greatest loves – gardening, cooking, and books. I couldn’t be happier unless he was, perhaps, writing about chickens. (*Nigel, for the love, please get chickens and write a book entitled Egg – A cook and his flock. I am certain your observations on living with chickens would be one of greatest books written. Ever.)
I won’t lie, this tome is a touch pricier than previous months, but at 600+ pages, it is a lovely mix of cookbook, gardening resource, and bedtime reading. So really, it is 3 books in one. Think of it this way and you’ll feel like you are getting a screaming deal!
Same deal as past Cook the Books months – Briggs and I will post throughout the month. You’ll post and send your link to us around the end of the month and we’ll include you in our monthly wrap up! Happy cooking and gardening!