Brit Food Luminaries




Some of my favorite books these days fall into the category of Too Big to Read in Bed. Which is a shame. I love to read in bed. But these books could better be described as volumes, and they put your arm to sleep when you’re laying on your side.

So to the sofa, with Nigel Slater’s delight of a book about vegetables: Tender, Volume 1. It begins: “As the church bells chimed on New Year’s Eve, and fireworks lit up the night sky, I vowed to dig up my lawn and grow at least some of my own vegetables and fruit.” Doesn’t it entice you to read more? I can’t wait to get ahold of the hefty follow-up (Tender, Vol. 2) which is all about fruit. But for now my eyes can’t get enough of the photography in this book (the photographer is London-based Jonathan Lovekin), and Slater’s writing is tasty stuff for a winter gardener longing for dirt to turn. Slater’s London garden is a fraction of our sprawling meadow, but no less productive. And his design and aesthetics make me long for a flat narrow space to re-architect for food growing pleasure (alas, we live on a continuous slope). That didn’t stop us from stomping through the snow to consider an area to flatten out a bit, imagining new walls and beds and paths within, imagining new possibilities.

The second massive volume I’ve been toting around is The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Hugh’s name has become synonymous around here with lifestyle changes we’re always contemplating. If it’s not referred to as something Hugh would approve of, we just call it ‘artisinal living.’ Either way, Hugh’s River Cottage books (we also have the daunting title River Cottage MEAT) continue to urge us in a direction we’ve always wanted to go: toward producing more of our food and to share more of it with friends and family in celebratory ways.

The other British luminaries whose book we squabble over, are a father and son team, Dick and James Strawbridge. The book, published by DK, is called Self Sufficiency for the 21st Century. It is much more interesting and much less preachy than the title would suggest. These two have enticed us to add a greenhouse to our gardenscape. It isn’t a hard sell—but their reasoning makes us think much more seriously about it. Since they are engineers—and we are not—there are many things they do that we will never aspire to, but our compost pile was pushed into high gear this fall after learning some methods from them, and we’ve learned a thing or two about pasture health, raising pigs (we did this once, but that’s a story for another day), and countless other ideas are brewing for us since this book came into our ownership.

It’s interesting to me that all of these writers are celebrities in Britain. We have celebrity chefs in the States, but I can’t think of many celebrity chef/gardener/farmers that have their own television shows urging viewers to raise pigs on their spare pasture. But there are many local food luminaries here in my own neighborhood, and—even if the national US audience won’t pull up to the TV at night to watch them muck out a stall—I can chat with them over coffee at my local market and I’m grateful to have these connections. More about them on another day. I have to go see what Nigel Slater has to say about leeks.


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