For an avid gardener, good books on keeping and using the harvest are a necessity. Even if you don't grow your own food, I'm confident you'll appreciate these books that top my list.
Look at all the pages I've marked! Photo by Carole Coates
Wildly Affordable Organic by Linda Watson
The quest which led Watson to this book was her desire to slow global warming, cook from scratch, and eat nutritiously and organically—all on a food stamp budget. In other words, to make the world a better place one plate at a time. As she says, the head-on collision of the philosophy and the politics of food was her wake-up call. She started by choosing menus and groceries based on what’s in season. Planning meals around inexpensive food staples such as dried beans and grains further achieved her goals.
More than a cookbook, this is the tale of a journey to deeper understanding and better living. It also offers a year’s worth of menus by season, along with the cost of each, making it an excellent guide for folks new to making their own way in the world—or for anyone who wants to eat well for less.
For me, this book was worth the purchase price for one very flexible recipe alone: noodles in spicy peanut sauce with seasonal vegetables (page 175). The genius of this recipe is that you can prepare it so many ways, changing out spring’s sugar snaps for fall’s broccoli, for instance. And it takes less than twenty minutes’ preparation time from start to finish. Can’t beat that.
What I love: The author’s done all the work for us, running a real-life test of thrift. (The long but appropriately descriptive subtitle of her book is Eat Fabulous Food, Get Healthy, and Save the Planet All on $5 a Day or Less.) Combining budget, nutrition, simple preparation, and satisfaction while being brutally honest about the results, she succeeded spectacularly.
Farmstead Chef by John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist
The premise of this book is eating what you grow at home, so the authors’ recipes are built around their own harvests.
This book, too, is more than a cookbook. Scattered throughout are thought-provoking food essays and inspiring stories. But my favorite part is the recipes, almost (not quite) exclusively vegetarian and vegan and as varied as French onion soup, peanut butter pumpkin bread, vegetable tempura, rhubarb fizz, freezer pickles, and cocoa muffins. Yum!
What I love: The recipes use ingredients you likely have on hand, the instructions are simple and direct, and most are quick to prepare. Oh, and the beet burgers. How much do I love them? After trying them the year before, I grew an especially large crop of beets last summer just so I could make and freeze enough burgers to enjoy quick and scrumptious meals throughout the year.
Backyard Foraging by Ellen Zachos
I love the idea of using my wits to get free food. In real life, it’s always been a bit of a challenge. Euell Gibbons’ books always left me a little unsure and wary. Not so with this volume.
Zachos’s book is chock full of color photographs for easy identification of 65 plants common to many yards, including greens, seeds, tubers, and fruit. Foraging doesn’t provide the sheer volume of food you can grow in the garden, but it’s free and easy and gets you out of doors. And as Zachos points out, when it’s in your own back yard you don’t have to wonder what it is or worry about permission.
For each of the plants the author discusses, she includes a profile and a discussion of which parts are edible, how to harvest, and the best way to eat it. She also offers a few preservation techniques and recipes. A few of the edibles she highlights are mulberry, spruce, canna, dahlia, bee balm, kousa dogwood. See, you really can forage in your own back yard. The addition of easy-to-identify mushrooms is a nice bonus.
What I love: the book’s organization. By grouping greens with other greens and flowers with other flowers, it becomes a more useful guide in the moment. I also like that she discusses ways to preserve foraging finds for good eating later in the year.
The Put ’Em Up series by Sherri Brooks Vinton
Vinton has written a three-part series, Put ’em Up!, Put ’em Up Fruit!, and the Put ’em Up! Preserving Answer Book. I have ’em all! They are comprehensive food preserving guides that also include information on drying and freezing but are primarily about home canning. The author provides a solid discussion of safe canning procedures. It’s an excellent reference when I need a refresher—which is every year at harvest time.
What sets this series apart from most home canning guides is that the recipes are for small batches, much more practical when making relishes and marmalades for instance, especially if your family is small.
The Put ’em Up! Preserving Answer Book is full of right-now solutions to preserving emergencies. With more than 200 pages of answers to preserving questions, it’s quite thorough. Vinton defines chiffonade, explains why blanching matters, covers the basic steps of pressure canning, clarifies common fermenting questions. Simply put, it’s an excellent go-to guide for all your preserving questions and quandaries. It would make an excellent gift for anyone who’s into preserving foods—or who has dreams of becoming a food preservation maven.
What I love: In addition to the author’s smart, slightly sassy style, I appreciate the upscale take on home preserving: lemon curd, ginger-carrot slaw, candied citrus rind, grapefruit in lavender syrup, Asian pickled radishes. Nothing boring here! Such simple-to-make but fancy-sounding dishes are sure to add pizzazz to your next dinner party or potluck. They make unique and tasty gifts, too.
Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.
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