Read it, grow it, eat it: Garden-to-table books
We hunger for seasonal cookbooks at this time of year, and I can think of some good reasons why:
-Everything at the farmers markets looks delicious and bountiful, even the produce you’ve never used before.
-That CSA (community-supported agriculture) basket is brimming with greens that won’t hang around long.
-Your community garden plot? Outta control. Already.
It’s no surprise, then, that the trendlet among the fresh crop of eat-local titles seems to be hyper-local — as in your own back yard. There’s DIY going on that would make the hosts on HGTV look like lazy bums.
“ The One-Block Feast, ” by Margo True and the staff of Sunset magazine (Ten Speed Press, 2011; $24.99). This chronicles a most ambitious, inspirational year-round plan. Sunset magazine staffers explain in compelling detail how they repurposed the five acres around their offices in Menlo Park, Calif., to grow vegetables, fruit, chili peppers, mushrooms, wheat, herbs and the hops for beer.
These are food people, not farmers. They formed single-purpose teams and learned about proper soil care and composting. They kept a cow and chickens and honeybees. They made wine and vinegars and ice cream and escargots (with garden snails!) and even tea. They developed vegetarian dishes that used only what they had at hand, which means there’s no meat, no cinnamon or baking soda or sugar in the cookbook’s recipe ingredient lists. When they had to go “outside the garden” to process grapes and olives and sea salt, they explained why and stayed close to home.
It took a village, a communal effort, to make it all happen. But their lessons learned make many of their projects seem doable with two or four hands on deck.
“ The Feast Nearby:How I Lost My Job, Buried a Marriage and Found My Way by Keeping Chickens, Foraging, Preserving, Bartering, and Eating Locally (All on Forty Dollars a Week), ” by Robin Mather (Ten Speed Press, 2011; $24). Unfortunate circumstances prompted Mather, a former Chicago food journalist, to live as a locavore in rural Michigan. She couldn’t grow that much herself, she writes, but she learned how to make the most of surpluses from the farmers markets by canning and preserving and all those other ways listed in the title.
Mather refutes the notion that eating locally and shopping at farmers markets is expensive. During the year she recounts, she worked within a small budget. The book includes recipes for making sauerkraut, hard cider and apple butter. Her journey is one of personal revelation and empowerment; there are broader lessons here as well.
“ Fine Cooking: In Season, ” by the editors and contributors of Fine Cooking magazine (Taunton, 2011; $22.95). The approach isn’t new, but listing ingredients within the four season chapters makes it quite handy. More than 90 types of produce are included, with the best of the publication’s 16 years of garden recipes. Most helpful are the directions on how to choose, store, prepare and preserve each food.
“ The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Local, ” by Diane Welland (Alpha, 2011; $16.95). Pretty darn basic. The author, a Washington-area dietitian, reminds us that options for eating local go beyond backyard gardening, farmers markets and CSAs to include foraging, gleaning, pick-your-own fields, roadside farm stands, small markets at farms and food co-ops. She includes guidebook resources, tips for teaching children through food and tips for stretching and storing what you grow and gather. A comprehensive glossary is good for filling in knowledge gaps.
“ The New Southern Garden Cookbook, ” by Sheri Castle (University of North Carolina Press, 2011; $35). If you see the garden as an extension of your kitchen, and if you happen to appreciate a Southern sensibility (“soupy taters” and bacon, sure, but collards do not get their own chapter), you’ll be happy with the vegetable-focused recipes.
“ Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Land, ” by Kurt Timmermeister (W.W. Norton, 2011; $24.95). Think Barbara Kingsolver, starting from a 20-something restaurateur’s perspective and engaging voice. The author worked 13 acres on Vashon Island, Wash., to create Kurtwood Farms. He raises animals, drives a tractor and learns how to make cheese. He does not include formally written recipes yet manages to explain processes of salting and curing meats that are easy to follow.