I will talk about wild food and foraging at the Llŷn Land and Sea Food Festival this Saturday and Sunday.
I thought it would be helpful for anyone attending those talks to have a guide to the sort of books that may help them identify and eat the wild food they find.
This is very much a personal list of books that are on my shelf, there are others which I am sure are excellent. I’ve not included detailed mushroom guides. I learnt to identify mushrooms with the back up of experienced funghi hunters here in the village and think this is an ideal way of learning. Use the internet to find your local mycologist or funghi foray to get you started.
The links are all to the UK Amazon site. The books are available elsewhere. I don’t make any money from these links. If you are keen to support me 😉 then please buy my book by clicking on The Permaculture Kitchen and buy a copy of my book- thanks.
The Guardian beginner’s guides
For quick introductions to some easy to find wild food, I wrote three pieces for The Guardian website you may find useful.
The River Cottage Handbooks are an excellent resource with identification tips and recipes: No 2 – Preserves by the friendly Pam Corbin; and, by the knowledgable John Wright, No 5 – Edible Seashore and No 7 – Hedgerow. They are small enough to pop in your bag or pocket to take with you on walks.
Alys Fowler’s The Thrifty Forager is a modern guide with recipes which is delightfully unfussy. Her book Abundance is a great guide to preserving all manner of things. They are both books best used at home.
John Lewis-Stempel has written an excellent guide Foraging: The essential guide to free wild food. It’s not got pictures for identification, but the written information is excellent. John knows his stuff, he lived on only foraged food for a year and his book about that is fascinating.
There’s more from the Mabey family, this time David and Rose Mabey: Jams, Pickles and Chutneys. An old book that is a classic with lots of recipes, some of which I’ve not seen elsewhere.
A pressure cooker is an essential item for every kitchen. If I could only have one cooking vessel, it’d be a pressure cooker. They are versatile, easy to use, energy-efficient and help you cook delicious, healthy and quick meals.
I needed wanted a replacement for my old Prestige pressure cooker. And, thanks to a Twitter tip from Catherine Phipps (of whom more later), I saved more than £30 of the cost (£134, RRP £149) by buying from Amazon.de rather than the UK site.
I’ve had the cooker since November 2014 and I have used it more than once each week since then. I don’t like clutter in the kitchen, but this one never gets put away: I use it so often.
I opted for a 6 litre cooker. One of the things to remember with pressure cookers is that you can’t fill them to the brim to pressure cook. Depending on what you’re cooking, you can only fill them 2/3 or 1/2 full. So my 6 litre cooker has a maximum ingredients volume of 4 litres. I find this is just right for the 2 or 3 of us. It’s ideal to cook a meal or dish that will last for multiple days.
One of the good things about this cooker is that you can buy different sized pans in this range to increase your options should you so wish. The lid and handle assembly are universal.
Why a new cooker?
I wanted to replace my old (20 years+) Prestige pressure cooker. Despite changing sealing rings and release valves it was difficult to get up to pressure, lost a lot of steam while cooking and was noisy. As a consequence of the sound and fury, it required more energy (higher gas) to keep at pressure and so had become relatively inefficient. To be honest, I’m not sure why it should have deteriorated. The physics and engineering of a cooker are very simple and there’s not much to go wrong. I can only assume that the quality of the spares were not as good as the originals. The pan is still good, so it’ll keep its place in my kitchen.
Mainly on the advice of Catherine and other experienced users and a thorough research of online reviews. Partly because it fitted my budget: it’s not the cheapest on the market, but it is a relatively high quality for the price.
I was also impressed with the excellent design of the lid and pressure control handle. The handle clips on/off the lid easily to clean and reassemble.
Detail of handle top including locking mechanism
Sealing ring and pressure relief valve (top)
The pressure indication is graduated (low/high) and very easy to see. The locking mechanism is failsafe and has a neat fast pressure release that means the steam vents away from you. No more lifting hot weights with tongs or gloves. (You can also fast pressure release by dousing it with cold water as with other cookers.)
There are spare parts easily available for the cooker. They’re not cheap and I suspect all manufacturers make a healthy margin on spares. What will be interesting for me to see is how the sealing on the underside of the handle holds up over time.
Inside of handle
It looks like silicone to me, so will withstand the heat: I wonder how it will age. I’d welcome views from any longer term WMF user in the comments about this.
The cooker doesn’t come with trivet or other inserts as standard which wasn’t a draw back for me. They’re not essential and Catherine’s book (see below) has excellent tips how to improvise with standard kitchen kit.
I’m really impressed with the cooker in use. It comes to pressure without fuss and the indicator is very clear. Once at pressure, I can put it on my smallest gas ring at its lowest setting to keep up pressure. And – it’s almost silent! Which means less energy use, less steam in the kitchen and I can hold a conversation while it does its stuff.
I use the pressure cooker for all sorts of things. Ragùs, stews, whole & jointed chicken and other poultry, risottos and pilafs, pasta, stocks, pulses (super quick cooking), grains, octopus…
You can’t bring the cooker to pressure without:
the sealing ring being properly located
the sliding indicator on the handle being in the locked position
And you can’t open the cooker until the sliding indicator is moved to the open position AND all the pressure is released.
If you do forget to turn down the temperature on the cooker once it’s up to pressure, it ‘honks’ at you to warn you. See and hear…
And if you left it still further, the pressure release valve would vent.
So no nasty surprises or explosions 🙂
Pressure Cooker Cookbook
I’ve been a pressure cooker fan for more than 25 years and have some lovely old pressure cooker books. I was delighted when Catherine Phipps published The Pressure Cooker Cookbook in 2012.
It’s a fresh, modern and no-faff book. It’s well researched, covers the ‘how-tos’ of pressure cooking very well and has a wide repertoire of pressure cooker recipes. I strongly recommend it for pressure cooker novices and old hands alike.
It’s been a while since I’ve written here. The first half of 2014 was pretty full on finishing design & proofs for my book, then its launch and aftermath. Home and garden deserved and needed some proper attention. So writing took a back seat from the summer onwards. My return was a tad delayed when I discovered that the pictures from the old Blogspot predecessor to this blog had disappeared into internet hell. So I’ve spent the last 3 days resurrecting the pictures from various computer hidey holes.
Enough of this. On with the fun stuff…
In a change from the ‘normal’ diet of food for your tastebuds, I have some recommendations for aural nutrition via earbuds.
I’ve been a podcast listener since the early noughties, starting with the brilliant Naked Scientists science podcast. Podcasts are syndicated audio programmes you can listen to online or download to your smartphone or tablet. They’ve had quite a bit of news coverage recently due to the success of the US podcast Serial which has gathered a cult following.
I like podcasts because I can listen to them when I want and when I have time. They’re ideal for work commutes, lie-ins and while I’m cooking.
I want to recommend two food related podcasts to you that I think are packed full of interesting and useful information and really well produced.
This is a relatively new podcast which launched in September last year. It’s co-hosted by professional writers and broadcasters Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley. They look at food through the lens of science and history. In their own words:
Each episode, we look at the hidden history and surprising science behind a different food and/or farming-related topic, from aquaculture to ancient feasts, from cutlery to chile peppers, and from microbes to Malbec.
I was hooked from the first fascinating programme on the science & history of cutlery. Do you know how the material of a spoon affects how food tastes? When were forks first commonly used? How was the microplane grater discovered/invented?
Last month there was a great show about ‘The new Kale’: seaweed farming from the USA to Scotland and beyond.
Each programme has extensive show notes for you to delve into should you fancy to find out more about the subject and the people interviewed. The podcast comes out about every couple of weeks. The presenters’ style is very approachable with lightness and humour folded in with the analysis and facts. Cynthia and Nicola are just preparing material for their second series, so catch up with the delights of the first.
This is a great podcast about all things fermented. Kefir, kombucha, cheese, krauts, yoghurt etc etc. It’s hosted by home DIYer Brandon Byers and food scientist Allison Wells. It’s roughly weekly with an interview with a special guest or guests. The guests include fermentation experts, scientists, fellow DIYers, authors and any other interesting fermenter.
If you’re into fermenting in any of its forms you’ll find this interesting.
One that particularly caught my attention was an excellent interview with Kirsten and Chris Shockey, co-authors of Fermented Vegetables. It’s an excellent book (I’ll review it properly later). Kirsten and Chris give insights about writing the book, how they got into and out of business and how fermentation fits into their life. It’s an inspiring listen.
The podcast has delved into ancient dairy ferments with a textile historian (really), black garlic, kombucha kits, fermented weeds and much more.
As with Gastropod, there are extensive show notes to allow you to follow up on things you find especially interesting.
A Change of Appetite: where healthy meets delicious by Diana Henry – Review
This was a book I needed. And I don’t mean ‘need’ in that “I’ve been a good boy and deserve a treat” sort of way.
However I didn’t know it met my need until I read it. I bought it because I had been good and did deserve a treat. And what a treat it is.
Why did I need it? I’ve been paying attention to the discussion about what constitutes ‘healthy eating’. It was hard for me to navigate my way through the facts and fashion to an evidence based conclusion about what would constitute healthy and desirable food to grow, cook and eat.
My friend (and newly qualified Ethnobotanist) Emma Cooper has started a virtual book club. More about Emma’s studies later, as we were a case study in Emma’s thesis.
Her idea is that participants will read a set book every other month and we then discuss this online.
For more details about how this will work and how to take part, please visit Emma’s blog post.
The first book for January 2014 is Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden by Gilbert Livingstone Wilson. It describes native American Indian agricultural practices of the Hidatsas (meaning ‘willows’) as recounted to him by the mother of his interpreter, Maxi’diwiac.
I very much look forward to reading the book and hope some of my blog readers will join in on Emma’s blog.
To help I have converted the free file of the book on the University of Pennsylvania web site into a pdf file which you can download.
Click on the link to open in a new tab you can then save to your hard drive.
Or right mouse click and ‘Save Link As’ to save the book to your hard drive.
Salumi delivers on its promises. If you want a comprehensive, understandable, useable and enjoyable guide to how to dry cure & preserve meats Italian style, this is it. It’s suitable for the chef, semi-pro or novice home practitioner. I wish that this book had been published a few years earlier to save me some hard won experience.
Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing is written by the authors of the acclaimed Charcuterie – Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn. Rhulman has written & co-written many bestselling books about cooking. Polcyn is Professor of Butchery & Charcuterie at Schoolcraft College in Michigan and a chef/patron of his own restaurants. They both demonstrate a clear knowledge of the science of meat preservation coupled with a love & evangelism for good food, slowly & lovingly prepared and eaten.
Salumi is a tidy hardback book that’ll fit on your worktop while you work through the instructions. It’s divided into five chapters which take you systematically through the process from carcass to consumption. It’s illustrated throughout with really clear & helpful drawings by Alan Witschonke. It has two beautiful sections of colour plates which really do the salumi proud and show you what to aim for. Each chapter has its own mini-contents at the beginning and these are helpful to see the scope of what’s there, not just to help to navigate the book. There are regular boxed out asides which give added detail and explanations or contain wonderful anecdotes. The anecdotes really bring the book alive and give it atmosphere.
They clarify terminology up front and explain that salumi is the word for salted & cured meats and salami are a subset of these which are dry cured sausages.
In the first chapter the authors first put salumi in their cultural and philosophical context. Now this may sound a little pretentious: but the way they express it is down to earth. While their book Charcuterie was about the French tradition of meat curing and confit; Salumi is about the narrower, more focused and more difficult craft (in their view) of Italian dry curing of meat. They say:
Nature is the greatest artist, we are not the first to say, and this is what salumi is really about: taking what nature gives us and doing as little as possible to it to make it the best it can be.
They emphasise the need for high quality meat and also that in using it you must be properly prepared. Their emotion about the responsibility of the meat preparer is eloquently expressed:
…if you are not prepared, if you have a feeling bone in your body, you will experience the deep humiliation of having wasted a creature’s life because you were lazy.
Quite so and well said. But the book is not all so earnest. The section the above quote comes from is entitled: “The Experience of Breaking Down a Whole Hog (Is This Your First Time, Sweetheart?)”. And their humour peeks cheekily through in many more passages and anecdotes.
The first chapter gives really detailed instructions of how to butcher a whole pig. Having done the job myself, the instructions are clearly from people that have done it for real. The drawings come into their own here and are very helpful. They say it’s hard work and needs from three to nine people to do. No wonder when I’ve done it on my todd, I been out on my feet at the end. There’s lots of good practical advice and tips.
The second chapter sets out the basics of the science behind why and how curing works. They deal with the safety and environmental/public health issues in a way that reassures. Like scuba diving, they say, if you follow the rules – you’ll be safe. They provide advice about what equipment is needed and how to improvise smokers and curing cabinets. The chapter ends with a basic recipe and some rules of thumb. In addition to the science and careful weighing of ingredients, they stress that common sense is a useful asset to have and use throughout the process.
In Chapter Three they describe and give recipes for the ‘Big Eight’ Italian dry cured meats. These are: guanciale, coppa, spalla, lardo, lonza, pancetta, prosciutto and (basic) salami. Each section describes the cuts and its uses, flavour, cure variations and gives relevant tips and things to look out for. The recipes are clear and precise, the measurements given in ounces and grammes with aniticpated timings and yields.
With Chapter Four, Ruhlman & Polcyn go “Deeper into the Craft of Dry Curing and Preserving Meat”. This covers how to make more complex salami, whole muscle salami and cooked salumi. The recipes follow a similar format to those in Chapter Three and I found really inspired me to want to get to grips with the art of the Salumière. The authors’ expertise of the technical aspects of the cure and how to match and blend flavours shines through.
Finally, in Chapter Five the art of how to cook with and serve salumi is revealed. There are six mouth watering sections which cover tagliere di salumi (the salumi board), crostini, pizza, pasta & polenta, soups & salads and classic combinations. There’s enough inspiration in here for many months and years of happy cooking.
I’ve kept, slaughtered and butchered my own pigs and made my own bacon, chorizo and sausages. So I’m an enthusiast for the process and the products. I’m also, as this blog shows, a big fan of Italian style cuisine. This book will soon look tired and battered as it’s bound to be well used, thumbed and drooled over. It’s an essential read for anyone interested in how to make preserved meats, or who wants to find out more about Italian cuisine.
Disclosure: The publishers provided me with a free copy of this book for me to review. They didn’t impose any express or implied conditions on this and I have written as I’ve found.
The Peat Free Diet (PFD) on Emma’s blog is a really useful resource for anyone interested in growing things. If you’re also interested in saving peat bogs by going peat free, then all the better: the book or audio-book is for you. Emma has packed a huge amount of comprehensive, detailed and well researched information into a neat little package. If you’re new to gardening or if you’d welcome a refresher, this will be a mine of handy & very accessible information for you.
Does it work as an audio-book though?
Yes, if you’re in the market for some enjoyable in-ear education. I can see (hear?) that this audio-book will be useful to commuters, exercisers and those who, for choice or physical need, prefer an audio presentation of material.
Emma’s diction and enunciation are very clear and crisp. I think that her speech will be clear on even the most dodgy set of earphones. The reading is fast enough paced so that you’ll not fall asleep without being so fast as to seem garbled.
Emma’s wry sense of humour also shines through her presentation with some dry quips delivered in characteristically understated style.
Emma produced the audio book herself and I think this shows in a couple of minor respects. The transitions between each track are slightly clipped at the end of one and the beginning of the next. Not so much so that you lose the meaning, but just noticeable. And on very few tracks the sound levels are not fully consistent between tracks. Again, not annoyingly so – just noticeable.
I think that this audio-book is a great piece of work by Emma. If you’re in the sort of groups of people I’ve suggested, it would be a great addition to your audio library.
I count Emma as a friend. We’re regularly in contact and exchanging banter on Twitter and Emma has been to visit me here in North Wales. That said, I’ve called this review as I heard it and feel about it. I hope that helps.
Maricel Presilla’s Gran Cocina Latina (Great Latin Cuisine) is a magnum opus in every sense of the phrase and I love it. It’s a huge work of 901 pages which took Presilla nearly 30 years to research and write. And it shows. It covers the history, lore, culture and recipes of Latin American food & cooking. It’s more than a recipe book: it’s social history and travelogue too. I wanted a book to help me learn about the cuisine of Latin America – this will be my bible.
Presilla is a polymath. Originally from Cuba, she emigrated to the USA. She is a Doctor in medieval history; an award winning chef and owner of two Latin restaurants in New Jersey; she has written a cultural & natural history of cacao and spoke in October 2012 at the Chocolate Unwrapped show in London. Her particular mix of knowledge, skills & experience make her uniquely qualified to write this book.
The book starts with explanations and descriptions of Latin America and the latin kitchen. Presilla clearly explains how in latin cooking the flavours are built up in layers: from adobo and sofrito through to the table condiments. This contrasts with other cuisines which may fuse or blend flavours.
She clearly places Latin cooking in its geographical, historical and socio-political context as this has changed and developed through the centuries. She says: “Again and again, I was forced to remember that food is always deeply political…the love of food transcends even the most bitter of realities.”
The middle chapters are divided into 16 food groupings: tropical roots & starchy vegetables; squashes, corn, quinoa, and beans; rice; drinks; little Latin dishes; empanadas; the tamal family; cebiches; La Olla (soups & hearty potages); salads; breads; fish and seafood; poultry; meat; hot pepper pots and dulce Latino (sweets & desserts).
Each chapter starts with a ‘Chapter at a view’ page: a mini-contents for that chapter. This makes choosing recipes really easy without having to thumb endlessly through this enormous book. Then there is a really useful introduction to the particular topic covering its place in Latin cooking & its history, typical ingredients and dishes as they vary around the continent. The introductions are spiced with generous stories and anecdotes which bring the food & cooking to life.
I found the recipes that follow clearly written and easy to cook by. The measurements are in cups and ounces as the book was intended for the US market. I suggest anyone cooking with it does what I’ve done and buy some cup measures and gets used to multiplying ounces by 25g.
I thought the design and lay out of the recipes is well executed with the busy cook in mind. There are Cook’s Notes helping you understand the approach to the recipe; details of what you can do ahead of time; suggestions of what to drink with the dish; bulleted points and boxed out notes help with anything that needs further explanation.
I also really like the line drawn illustrations which are clear and very informative. The photography has clearly met Presilla’s brief to the photography team who achieved what Presilla calls “…a Vermeer-like understanding of light and composition…” I would have preferred more conventionally lit photography. However, the treatment does not detract from seeing what many of the recipes look like and certainly conveys something of the atmosphere of the cuisine.
I bought this book because I wanted to know more about Latin American cuisine and its DNA as it were. Through chance and luck, I am growing many South American foods here in North Wales that are not usual in Western Europe. We are growing oca, ulluco, mashua, rocoto, yacon, talets, hopniss, achocha and pepino. These potentially could be crops that will thrive here and there is little work done on recipes to use them in our cooking. Presilla’s Gran Cocina Latina is an excellent piece of writing which will help me understand their cultural roots and hopefully contribute to a new chapter for them in the northern hemisphere.
If you have an interest in Latin America and its culture and history, this is an excellent read and essential in my view. If you have a passion for world food & cooking, this book needs to be on your lap to enjoy the journey through place and time.
Eliot Coleman: Four Season Harvest – Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long. Revised & updated edition.
Chelsea Green Publishing, 1999. Paperback 234pp
Four Season Harvest is a book about “extending the harvest season not the growing season”. In the words of Coleman’s wife Barbara Damrosch in the Foreword: “It’s about gardening and eating in a manner appropriate to each season”. These are sentiments close to my own values to use food that is fresh, seasonal and local. This was one of the first books we bought on this subject and it has stood the test of time against newer publications.
Eliot Coleman is a leading proponent of organic gardening and farming as well as being an author. He advocates working with nature and the soil using simple and effective techniques. He lives and gardens in Maine, [state], USA. This is an edition of his 1992 book revised in 1999 after a research trip to France. There Coleman & Damrosch ‘re-discovered’ knowledge of year-round growing and harvesting from French gardeners. This edition contains great advice and inspiration from this source. The story of their French trip unfolds wonderfully throughout the book and is an inspiration.
Four Season Harvest is well designed and laid out in two column format. Kathy Bray’s black & white illustrations are beautiful and helpful. There is a colour inset section in the middle of the book which contains useful photographs taken by Damrosch.
In the first two Chapters Coleman makes the case for the all year round harvest. He advocates not just that you extend the summer harvest into late-autumn, but that you should plant cold tolerant crops too. He usefully explains how your latitude, day length and temperature will affect what will germinate and grow. He then outlines how to begin to create a productive garden that is also a place for you to live and work in happily.
In the next three chapters Coleman takes you through making compost to feed your garden, how to assess, plan and prepare your plot and where to source seeds from both conventional and ‘alternative’ sources.
He then explains how to do outdoor gardening and suggests ways to use ducks as garden helpers. He describes the contribution of covered gardening if you use greenhouses, polytunnels, cold frames and cloches. These contain detailed explanations and he delivers lots of useful advice and experience. He includes a number of useful tables to help with planting and cropping dates and sequences.
Chapter 11 is a really useful chapter about the ‘Indoor Harvest’. He tells you about how to store root crops in cellars or clamps and producing shoot harvests by ‘forcing’ vegetables. He also gives some basic information about how to dehydrate your produce to preserve it.
In Chapter 12 he explains about what he calls ‘Balanced Gardening’: methods using organic principles and polyculture.
The four Appendices are a mine of useful information. Appendix A gives extensive details for a range of plants how to plant, cultivate, harvest and store them. Appendix B contains resources about climate and temperature. The last two appendices discuss the ecological impact of plastic in the garden and gives information about sources of supply and tools. There is an extensive Bibliography and comprehensive index.
The prose is clear and the descriptive passages evoke and emote his love of his garden and of the French gardens. This book is clearly a distillation of many years careful and thoughtful study around the world. Coleman writes mainly from a United States perspective but there is good data for Western Europe. I think there is enough information for the knowledge to translate well to other parts of the world.
This is a book that we continue to go back to for reference and inspiration year after year. I don’t think it is so comprehensive that it should be the only text on your bookshelf on this subject. I do, however, think it’s an essential read.