1999. 468 pages, 400 recipes.
Squash Soup with Fried Sage Leaves
The seeds for this cookbook were broadcast a few years ago when the most popular retailer of the gardening world began soliciting recipes from cooking gardeners and gardening cooks from across the country. The result is Smith & Hawken Gardeners' Community Cookbook, a compilation of dishes about as eclectic as the people who contributed them. One man nostalgic for baseball games in his Southern childhood offers a recipe for the boiled peanuts similar to those hawked at Mercer U. games in his youth. A descendent of a South Dakota homesteader shares her foremother's recipe for potato soup "with Humble Cupboard Egg Dumplings". A potter in Greece donates her mother-in-laws' special Figs with Cinnamon, Anise, and Bay Leaves. The book also includes a sprinkling of dishes contributed by culinary luminaries such as Mark Miller and Deborah Madison. (Take it from me: Madison's Butternut Squash Soup with Fried Sage Leaves is a satisfying winner warmer.)
Frankly, the "community" part of the "gardeners' community" concept is a bit of a stretch. Nonetheless, as I browsed through the book reading quotes from the contributors, I sensed that if I met any one of them we could quickly find ourselves in discussing tomato relish or tomato blight or the linoleum on our grandmothers' kitchen floors.
There's definitely an extemporaneous quality in the genesis of lots of the recipes. Many readers will identify with the woman who uses her garden as her muse: "My favorite suppers are those inspired by a late-afternoon contemplation of my vegetable garden." A glance at carrots in growing in the backyard gave one enthusiastic baker an "Aha!" moment when trying to come up with an orange colored bread for a Halloween party. The resultant Carrot Bread has become her most requested recipe.
Every gardener knows the dilemma of having too much of a good thing., when the first sweet harvest is long gone and the produce just keeps producing…and producing…and producing until it has the annoying quality of a guest who has overstayed his welcome and is not picking up your hints that it's time to leave. The Gardeners' Community Cookbook can ameliorate your relationship with the omnipresent produce. It contains an abundance of recipes for produce ranging from arugula to zucchini. (For example, there are over sixty recipes involving tomatoes.) Bumper crops are not a problem I face. I am the only gardener I know with underachieving zucchini. Kale is the only vegetable that thrives happily in my garden throughout fall and winter under my reign of benign neglect. But by the time March rolls around and I see that Ragged Jack and Russian Red are still holding forth with much energy and robust good health, I slump a little and mutter, "You're still here?" So one of the first things I did when I got this book was to go to the index and look up kale, pleased to find a nice little cluster of recipes. The Stir-Fired Kale with Spinach and Hazelnuts was delicious. (I had forgotten how good hazelnuts are.)
The tradition of putting foods by gets its own chapter with enough how-to information to give training wheels to the canning novice, and enough variety of recipes for pickles, relishes, chutneys, jams, and jellies to fill your pantry and then some
So far I've mainly concentrated on trying recipes for weeknight dinners, but there's other territory in the book I'm looking forward to exploring, especially the herb-y sweets like Rosemary Layer Cake with Rosemary-Cream Frosting and Thyme-Infused Lemon Sorbet. And I just have to try the Blackberry and Beet Brownies, which sound thrillingly hideous….but it must taste good or it wouldn't have made it into the book, right?
Don't look to this book as a substanstative source for vegetable/fruit growing advice. But you will find tips and observations tucked here and there, the kind of information you might exchange with a stranger you strike up a conversation with as you're both at the garden center lingering over the lettuces flats and find yourselves comparing slug control strategies. In much the same manner you'll find sidebars with cooking info relevant to the recipes at hand.
And don't look to this book big-deal, wow-the guests tour de force dishes. The Gardeners' Community Cookbook is about home cooking. I like to think of the book's contributors thumbing through their well-used cookbooks, rifling through their recipe boxes, or unearthing a yellowing newspaper clipping in order to find their favorite recipe, the one they want to share with the rest of us.