As a general rule, I try not to review cookbooks until I have owned them for at least a year. I buy them at retail, paying the same price that my readers will eventually pay, and then I read them, cook from them and think about them. Many cookbooks that seemed very enticing when I first brought them home are relegated to distant shelves a year later.
This one still has a prominent place at my bedside, which is my favorite place for reading and thinking about food. Chef Emmons writes about a year that she spent cooking from a wildly varied organic vegetable farm, Eva’s Farm. This farm seems to be doing on a very large scale what I am trying to do on my property on a very small scale, i.e. there is a little bit of everything and no clear line between the cultivated plants and the wildlings. Lambsquarters and nettles are given the same culinary consideration as spinach and chard, but there is no particular emphasis on their wildness; they’re just there. This is absolutely as it should be, in my view. The difference between a cultivated plant and a weed is a rather slight one.
The recipes read as an ongoing series of seasonal improvisations on the level of “see it growing, cook it, eat it.” They certainly work if you want to follow them closely, but in my view are better read as a vision of the garden through the eye of a cook, who might see infinite possibilities but can only cook one of them at a time. There is an emphasis on frugality but not an obsession with it. The use of herbs in lavish free-form ways is a delightful subtext. The sidebars are full of interesting thoughts about farming, cooking, and just being alive. The recipes include meat and dairy products and, in general, everything that might grow on a vegetable farm or be bartered for.
In brief, I love this book, use it, and recommend it. I put it aside this winter, but when the first greens showed above ground, it was back at my bedside. It looks a bit worn and has a food stain on the cover, which tends to distinguish the cookbooks that I read from the ones that I use.