Book Review: “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook”

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Cover Courtesy Workman Press
Instead of starting with a recipe and a list of ingredients to buy, “a gardener-cook does it backwards,” writes author Barbara Damrosch in the kitchen half of this book. That approach shapes the fun recipes in this stellar new resource for gardeners who also love to cook.

For a couple of organic horticulture professionals, Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch had the most romantic meeting imaginable: in the late Helen Nearing’s greenhouse in Maine. Coleman, whose farm was nearby, was tying up his neighbor’s tomatoes. Damrosch was looking for land to grow crops, and was visiting the iconic Nearing, who with her husband, Scott, led last century’s back-to-the-land movement.

“So I got a wonderful husband and a farm, all at once,” says Damrosch. She and Coleman have been growing beautiful gardens together — and writing about them — ever since. Their new book, The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook (Workman, 2013) contains the best of their expertise. The photos, mostly taken by Damrosch, are beautiful and inspirational.

Instead of starting with a recipe and a list of ingredients to buy, “a gardener-cook does it backwards,” writes Damrosch in the kitchen half of this book. “The garden provides a list of ingredients, inspires the recipe, and collaborates on the menu. It’s more interactive. It’s more fun.”

And because gardeners are often busy tending their crops and eating VERY locally and seasonally, these recipes are simple and modular. “You could apply the same recipe to whatever is in season,” says Damrosch. Recipes are arranged in sections according to type of dish: appetizers, salads, stir-fries, omelets, soups, quiches and fruit custards, adaptable to whatever’s ripe and ready to be picked.

Unlike other “cooking from the garden” books, this one is both basic and adventurous, and has recipes for some less commonly grown ingredients like Peruvian potatoes, mâche, fennel, kohlrabi, and artichokes (yes, it is possible to grow artichokes in Maine). Also, there’s a whole chapter on cooking greens, those nutritional powerhouses everyone could eat more of.

Garden Planning

In the book’s garden half, Coleman and Damrosch distill their expertise into concise, how-to information and wise observations. Of course, there’s a big section on soil, the secret to any successful garden. “If you want to grow vegetables,” says Coleman, “you have to ask: what is it that vegetables want in the soil? What pH, organic matter, nutrients?”

Subsequent sections cover garden design and construction, what to grow (salad garden, practical garden, hard times garden, or savory garden?), and how to grow, harvest, store and cook individual crops arranged by plant families.  Plus, there’s information on seed-starting, seed-saving, weed control, fencing, and edible landscaping, as well as valuable resource lists and charts.

Winter Gardening Techniques

Coleman is known for four-season gardening techniques (he’s written Four Season Harvest and The Winter Harvest Handbook), so there’s an excellent section on season extension with simple, moveable greenhouses, and details on storing root crops through the cold months.

All in all, if you want only one, well-written gardening book with all the answers, geared toward self-sufficiency, this is it. Says Damrosch: “If it’s complicated, you’re doing it wrong.”

Learn More at a FAIR

Damrosch recently participated in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in June in Puyallup, Wash.; Coleman is scheduled to be at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR on Oct. 12 in Lawrence, Kan.

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