I can hear Mr. Fairweather snorting as he reads this. I’m ignoring him.
But seriously. What’s not to love about notebooks? They are beautiful to look at, to feel and sometimes even to smell. I know I may be getting a bit weird here. But seriously, have you smelled a new book? Or what about the smell of an old book? Ok. Any book…. And with notebooks, they can be whatever you want them to be. Diary, journal, sketch book, list books, idea books, story books, picture books, scrap books, just in case books. You get the idea.
So imagine my delight to find a book laid out like a scrap book that combines gardening and cooking. That book my friends, is Grow, Cook, Eat by Michael Kelly, founder of Grow It Yourself (GIY). If you haven’t come across GIY before, I suggest you check it out. Here is a grass roots organisation after my own heart. The seed was planted in 2008 with the first group of people getting together to learn about growing their own food from each other. It has blossomed from there and they now support community food groups, community projects, school and work groups. Despite how big it has grown, at it’s core, it is still about small groups of like minded people coming together and pooling knowledge and helping each other figure it all out. What I really like about their story is that it started from one man who really didn’t know what he was doing in the garden. He had a hare-brained idea and took it from there. I do like an old hare-brained idea myself.
I was thrilled to win a copy of Michael Kelly’s book in an on-line competition. Gardening and cooking. It’s a winning combination surely. But to make it even better, it’s full of recipes and contributions from really well-respected chefs and authors in their own right, many of whom are patrons of GIY and heroes of mine – Darina Allen, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Alys Fowler to name but a few. Others I had not come across before but now I get a flavour of who they are through their recipes in this book. Chocolate, pistachio and raspberry tarts anyone? Beetroot and carrot gratin? Nettle and chive champ?
As usual I am being led by my stomach. This isn’t just a cookbook. It is a rich and informative gardening book. A fabulous resource for a beginner gardener like myself. And it’s all laid out in an easily digestible manner. It makes me want to turn over the page and drink in what’s next. Michael’s Monthly Insights are full of great tips from how to sow seeds properly to making compost, from saving seeds to crop rotation. Gardening 101 you might say but sometimes when you jump in the deep end, it’s important to row yourself back and remember how to simply tread water before you enter the 50m butterfly. His monthly tips are little pearls of wisdom that I for one hope will elevate me from fumbling in the dark to gardener extraordinaire.
If for nothing else I would get this book for its lists – I do love a good list! It opens with an annual sowing planner which sets out month by month what to sow where and how. It even breaks the months up into early and late and tells you when to do your successional sowing. Successional sowing is something I have never quite mastered. Normally I lob everything into the ground and hope for the best or start off with the best intentions but simply forget to come back and do another sowing.
At the beginning of each month is a spread about what to do that month. This is broken down into Preparation, To Do List, Sowing, Planting Out, Harvesting. In April, he talks about earthing up your spuds. He doesn’t just say do it. He says how and why you should do it. In November he says prune your apple trees and explains what you are looking for when you do it. This book is going to organise me despite myself.
But for me it really is the presentation of the book that makes it. It looks like I have stumbled across an experienced gardener’s journal. Pictures look like they are taped on, I can imagine notes scribbled on backs of seed packets or sheets of copybook paper stuck in for safekeeping. The half dozen or so recipes each month actually look delicious yet achievable. I have to say, in my opinion, some cookbooks fail to meet that basic standard yet this gardening book does. The only thing this book is missing is a few dog ears and a couple of mucky fingerprints and I reckon I can sort those two problems out.