Alexandra Campbell on the best gardeners’ cookbooks
The Saucy Dressings guest contributor for November is Alexandra Campbell, author of The Middlesized Garden blog, aimed at those whose gardens are larger than a courtyard but smaller than an acre, now in the UK Top 10 Garden Blogs (7 on Vuelio and 5 on Teads), Alexandra also runs seminars and one-on-ones on blogging, and how to improve a blog. Always a keen gardener, she launched The Middlesized Garden when she moved out of London to Kent.
Here, just in time to give inspiration for Christmas, she gives her recommendations for cookbooks for gardeners.
Eating seasonally is actually easier than having to ask yourself ‘what shall we eat tonight?’ every day. You buy or grow the food that’s in season, so at least you start with one or more ingredients.
Of course, those ingredients are mainly vegetables, so although the best garden cookery books aren’t necessarily vegetarian, most are. These are the cookbooks you need if you grow your own food, get a vegetable delivery box or shop at farmers’ markets.
For the cook who gardens – Tender, vol 1 and 2 by Nigel Slater
Nigel Slater made his name as an inspired but reliable cookery writer before he got into grow-your-own gardening. Part 1 of his two-volume cookery series Tender lists vegetables alphabetically.
The first part of each vegetable section goes through his experience of growing and cooking the veg, and gives useful general tips for cooking them. As a cookery writer he teaches you about food generally, as well as giving specific recipes. ‘Tender’ part 2 does the same for grow-your-own fruit, although I haven’t found this quite as essential to my daily cooking as the veg version.
For the gardener who cooks – Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook
Sarah Raven is a garden writer who has expanded into the world of cooking, using food grown at her home Perch Farm, where she also runs gardening courses. Her Sarah Raven Garden Cookbook is filled with excellent recipes that are arranged seasonally. She too offers some general advice about growing each fruit or vegetable, but this isn’t a vegetarian cookbook. There are plenty of recipes that use meat and fish, cooked with seasonal fruit or vegetables.
The best vegetarian cookery book – River Cottage Veg by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
This is widely acclaimed as one of the best – if not the best – vegetarian cookery books out there. I’ve only cooked a few recipes from it, but they’ve turned out brilliantly. It’s hearty seasonal food that the whole family will enjoy.
The pioneering vegetable cookery book – Plenty and Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi
The man who has transformed vegetarian cookery for our age is Yotam Ottolenghi with Plenty and Plenty More. His cookery draws on influences around the world, but its heart is Middle Eastern.
Yet the vegetables he uses are surprisingly easy to grow in Northern hemisphere gardens. While Sarah Raven and Nigel Slater will get you cooking vegetables in a different way, Ottolenghi is also likely to get you growing wider variety.
Good for students and beginners – Vegetarian Nosh for Students – Joy May
When my children went to university, they took Joy May’s Nosh for Students with them, and found its recipes easy, satisfying and practical. My daughter reckons it’s the best of the student cookery books. Now it’s been joined by Vegetarian Nosh for Students, written in the same accessible, clear way, which will make good use of all the vegetables you grow. I haven’t found either of Joy May’s cookbooks as visually inspiring as, say, Sarah Raven, but nearly 400 reviews on Amazon give it a 5* rating.
Spice up your grow-your-own – books by Madhur Jaffrey
I’ve been cooking from Madhur Jaffrey recipes for decades. They’ve always been easy to follow and the results are reliably excellent. While my current favourite Madhur is Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible, it’s well worth trying her World Vegetarian. This takes you round the world from Trinidad to Thailand, always with a strong curry element to the recipes.
A few additional suggestions
The most important thing is to remember that cookery and gardening are closely interlinked. Don’t see them as two separate activities, but as two parts of your life that feed into each other.
Before deciding what vegetables to grow, it’s a really good idea to skim through your favourite cookery books to see what vegetables you eat most often (see here for a good way to plan your veg patch)
And if you’re thinking about getting more out of your vegetable garden, now is a good time to start thinking about it. Go here for the secrets of year-round veg patch success.