Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook

The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook
Authors: Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman
Publisher: Workman (2013)

Gardening can be a tricky thing. Between choosing what and when to plant, what type of soil you have, how much water, sun, fertilizer and space the seedlings need and how to deal with all those darned weeds, what should be a relaxing pastime can quickly turn into a neurotic episode. Of course, even if all the variables are in your favour, your garden harvest may fail horribly... or you may find yourself with more tomatoes and peppers than you know what to do with! The Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine, does though – and authors Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman are ready to share their knowledge in their book: The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook.

Gardener’s Cookbook is actually two books in one – the first 250 of the almost 500 pages (Part One) are dedicated to everything related to growing your own food. From the best layouts for proper growing and easy harvests (p. 33), to gardening in tiny spaces (p. 32), crop rotation (p. 43-52) and even the annual vs. permanent produce varieties, no practical detail is spared. A bit of soil science is also included in the first chapter, which for any new gardener (and even some seasoned pros) proves to be a useful and informative read. Note, however, that since the Four Season Farm is on the East coast of Maine, the notes that Damrosch and Coleman include are attuned to that climate (humid continental) and topography (rocky). However, with the solid knowledge that this book provides on a general scheme, readers will be able to apply the necessary adaptations for their own zones.

Purple Oregano

My favourite section of Part One is The Crops (p. 63), as it comprises suggested plans for all types of gardening. From the Salad Garden (p. 64) to the Winter Garden (p. 87) and even a Hard Times Garden (p. 75), whatever your need or desire you can find one (or many) forms of inspiration. The suggestions of produce are not only astoundingly diverse, but are inspirational for even a summertime casual gardener like me. Things I didn’t even realize were accessible to the home gardener (like artichokes and Asian greens) came onto my radar, and now I’m probing their possibilities in my garden next year. Given that the authors have over 40 years of experience in the field of agriculture, readers can rest assured that spending the time to peruse Part One of this book is well worth it!

Filbert Torte with Rich Chocolate Frosting
Hazelnut Torte (p. 437)
For those shopping for a recipe bible, the title of Gardener’s Cookbook is a little bit of a misnomer. In fact, the actual “cookbook” is in Part Two, and while it does contain 120 recipes it is by no means a comprehensive “usage guide” for the produce that tempted gardeners in Part One. Many of these recipes are heavy on the butter, cream, cheese and meat too (dieters and vegetarians beware), sometimes to the edge of excess. That said, many of these recipes are still delicious examples of why we need to eat more vegetables, fruits and herbs! My mom (a bona fide leek lover) fawned over the Baked Leeks (p. 392), even though we both agreed it didn’t need the butter to taste rich. The “Thinnings” Salad with Asparagus (p. 304) has been bookmarked since I received the book as well, since both my mother and I love asparagus and we have plenty of beet greens, lettuce, arugula and endive at our disposal in the backyard! With a few modifications for dairy allergies (and a different, chocolatey filling for taste preferences), almost everyone I served the Hazelnut Torte with Summer Berries (p. 437) to adored the rich, nut- and egg-based crumb (especially with fresh raspberries). That said, while the title of Roast Chicken with Potatoes and Sage (p. 421) tempted me, upon reading the ingredients (containing a cup of heavy cream in a “gravy”), I was turned off by how such a simple, comforting meal like roast chicken and potatoes was being drowned in a rich sauce. Making the Red Thai Curry with Fall Vegetables (p. 404) was an experience I won’t soon forget either – from having to hunt for the red curry paste to the volumes (of both ingredients and finished product) and cook times being drastically off, I was sure the end result would be horrid. Luckily, on the taste and (eventual) texture front, it was a winner – just make sure that if you do attempt this recipe that you break out the absolute largest pot in the house, double the curry paste and add an extra can of coconut milk! The curry is also a great example of a perfectly adaptable recipe. Don’t have sweet potato? Use carrots. No cauliflower? Use broccoli, green beans, parsnips... whatever your fancy! We actually made a second batch of this recipe with almost every vegetable under the sun as well as cubed tofu for extra protein, and it was definitely the hit of the evening.

Thai Vegetable Curry
Red Thai Curry with Fall Vegetables (p. 404)
Even if you don’t think you have a green thumb or culinary bone in your body, it’s never too late to start. As long as you have the desire for fresh, homegrown food – like perfectly crisp lettuce, still warm tomatoes, or just-pulled carrots – at your beck and call, some dirt, seeds and a kitchen are all you need to use The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook.

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