Friday, 19 November 2010
If you're looking for a comprehensive guide to growing fruit and vegetables, plus lots of recipes to deal with all of your produce, then you need look no further than Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Companion: I was lucky to be sent a review copy recently :)
Stephanie hails from Australia, where she is a very popular cookery writer. In addition she's pioneered getting children involved in both growing and eating food, resulting in her founding the Kitchen Garden Foundation, which has projects throughout Australia. It means the book is slanted towards getting children involved, though it's useful to all irrespective of age.
It's also a hefty tome, with over 700 pages featuring over 50 fruit and vegetables. The first part of the book is geared towards making sure the reader is adequately equipped for both garden and kitchen; plus there's a general introduction to getting started in the garden and gardening with kids.
The bulk of the book deals with each crop in alphabetical order: from Amaranth through to Zucchini. For each crop there is a page of general information about growing, followed by a couple of pages going into a bit more depth about growing and harvesting, plus sections on container gardening, preparation for the kitchen and a final section called Especially for Kids, but which has a wealth of unusual facts which I hadn't seen before, so it was interesting to me too (or perhaps I'm a big kid at heart? You decide!).
The gardening section is then followed by a number of recipes: sweet and/or savoury as applicable. The recipes reminded me very much of eating out in Australia: they draw on the wealth of culinary influences from the many immigrant communities there including Italy and Greece through to Asian fusion food, so there is plenty of inspiration to suit all tastes. Stephanie is also very good at suggesting substitute ingredients, thus extending the possibilities even further.
I've tried quite a few recipes already and have particularly enjoyed the Pumpkin, Coconut and Seafood Soup, Easy Plum Cake, Oven Roasted Pears and Dried Borlotti Beans with Pork. I like being able to see what I have a glut of in my kitchen and immediately have several possibilities to hand in one chapter, rather than having to hunt through an entire book or the index to see what tempts me.
The book ends with a Basics section which includes garden and kitchen glossaries, plus a chapter on pests and weed control with the emphasis on organic methods of control. I must confess I found the separate glossaries a little frustrating as almost invariably I'd open the Kitchen Glossary to look up a gardening term and vice versa.
Whilst this book originated from down under, it's clear that it has been extensively re-edited for the UK market, which the publisher also confirmed when I contacted them. The exception to this is the naming of some vegetables: thus chard is found under silver beet and courgettes under zucchini. However, to have renamed these to their UK counterparts would have resulted in an re-indexing nightmare, so I can understand why they were left alone.
The book comes with a protective cloth cover, plus two silk bookmarks, which are nice touches and I found the latter particularly useful when following the recipes. It's almost impossible with such a large book to keep it open at the right page when using recipes from the front or end sections.
Personally I found the recipes of more value than the gardening, but that's because I have plenty of grow your own books already. However, I'm sure that someone starting growing fruit and vegetables for the first time will find the cultivation sections just as useful as the cookery ones.
The final test for me is whether this book made it into the small section in my kitchen where it will be consulted frequently, or consigned to languish in the bookcase in my dining room. Despite its heftiness, I've managed to find room for it in my kitchen cupboard :)