MANY OF THE BEST new cookbooks are all about the garden. No longer do their authors act as if food originates in the grocery store.
Three new cookbooks emphasize food plucked fresh from the soil, the beauty and nutritional value of vegetables, and how to cook what you grow yourself or pick up at the local farmers market.
“Hedgebrook Cookbook: Celebrating Radical Hospitality,” by Denise Barr and Julie Rosten (She Writes Press, $24.95) is a fine example of this welcome new sensibility. The first cookbook from Hedgebrook, a Whidbey Island retreat for women writers, is as much a celebration of community and cooking with love as it is a beautifully photographed compilation of “comfort food” recipes. Most of the recipes, from Slow Roasted Tomatoes to Ginger Pumpkin Bread, start with fruit or vegetables from the bountiful Hedgebrook garden. The book gratefully acknowledges its local island suppliers of everything from wine to fish to bread. The cooks know the origin of what they’re feeding writers lucky enough to gather around Hedgebrook’s farmhouse table.
A disclaimer here: I wrote one of the essays in the book about the pleasure of being generously and thoughtfully fed, housed and left alone to write. I’m guessing it’s the only time I’ll be published alongside Gloria Steinem, who spends part of every summer on Whidbey, nurtured as so many have been over the past 25 years by the gardens and chefs of Hedgebrook.
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“66 Square Feet, A Delicious Life; One Woman, One Terrace, 92 Recipes,” by Marie Viljoen (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $29.95) is a book born of a blog, but it doesn’t look it. It’s a handsome hardback, filled with arty food, flower and city photos. It’s as much about how to squeeze pots full of herbs, strawberries and lettuce onto a Brooklyn terrace as it is about Viljoen’s love of cooking and setting a pretty table. The book is arranged month by month because the author revels in seasonality. Recipes such as Milkweed Buds with Ginger and Soy Sauce (a “forager’s special”) are balanced with more likely dishes such as Carrot and Cumin Soup and Broccoli Bruschetta. While this cookbook is all about city life on the East Coast, and the one from Hedgebrook is about island life nearly as far west as you can go, both offer visions of growing, cooking and sharing fresh food as central to living a good life.
“50 Best Plants on the Planet: The Most Nutrient-Dense Fruits and Vegetables, in 150 Delicious Recipes,” by Cathy Thomas, (Chronicle Books, $29.95) nearly reviews itself in the title.
Right off, I miss the food artistry and seasonality of the two other cookbooks. The tone tends toward “If you have to eat two-three servings of vegetables a day, why not be effective about it?” The nutritional detail and calorie counts are balanced with luscious photos and tempting recipes such as Warm Quinoa Salad with Cilantro and Black Beans, and Pasta with Roasted Pumpkin. You may want to skip the Butter Bean and Chard Slumgullion. This might be just the cookbook to inspire someone with a scientific bent, or anyone intent on finding new recipes using healthful ingredients from arugula to watermelon.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.