The Semi-Permaculture Kitchen

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Recently I read a cookbook which I am not going to name because I was quite disappointed in it but can’t stand to pan such clearly goodhearted efforts. So I will only say that it is from my favorite publisher and has the word “permaculture” in the title. The recipes are perfectly good vegetable based recipes, similar to those in many, many other good cookbooks on the market. My disappointment is this: it concentrates on the usual annual vegetables that everybody grows, with occasional vague mentions of foraged greens or wild mushrooms, and seems to me to have very little to do with permaculture. So, uh, why call it that?
So today I’m going to indulge myself and make a plea to all potential authors, and talk about what a real permaculture cookbook would offer, with great hope that somebody knows of one or will sit down and write one. I am a semi-permaculturist at best, and even so some very strange produce indeed comes through my kitchen. Some examples: nettles, bladder campion, hops shoots, green garlic, blackberry shoots, cattails, unripe as well as ripe apples and plums, Goumi berries, clove currants, wax currants, linden leaves, mulberry leaves and unripe fruit as well as ripe berries, rau ram, ginger and turmeric leaves, radish pods, chicory leaves and roots, burdock stalks, milkweed, daylilies, hosta shoots, groundnuts (Apios americana, not peanuts,) goji shoots and berries, canna leaves and bulbs, quinces, salsify, and scorzonera as well as the more usual veggies and fruits. Bamboo shoots and the Japanese perennial vegetables Fuki and Udo should be ready to harvest in the next year or two. All these things grow well in semiwild tangles that can be managed with little or no soil disturbance after the initial planting. I would love to read a cookbook about foods like this. I would love to read knowledgable descriptions of their flavor and texture profiles and how they change through the season, how other cultures have used them, and how to make them respected at the modern table. That, to me, would be a real permaculture cookbook. I know that all over the world there are committed permaculturists working with these plants and eating them. I do hope that somebody will put it all in print. I’m hoping for a cookbook as weird and thoroughly wonderful as Baudar’s The New Wildcrafted Cuisine but devoted to the daily surprises, wild and cultivated and in-between, that can be offered by a single piece of land.

While I wait for this book to be brought to my attention, or written, I hope that you will comment with something unusual that you’ve eaten recently and what you thought of it.
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5 responses to this post.

  1. Thank you for such a call to action Heather. My problem with most permaculture cookbooks/recipes I have come across is they usually smother things in sugar or white flour which, in my opinion, defeats much of the health benefits and drowns in the sensations of the everyday fare unique flavors that should be accentuated and appreciated.

    I have not veered much lately from the everyday variations of kale. I was enjoying spiny amaranth which grow wild in the gardens. I saute it, with a little fish sauce at the end, then top with quartered tomatoes and a bit of balsamic vinegar. It’s blooming now, so I have stopped harvesting it. I do want to try some daylily buds before they are finished though.

    Thanks again for pointing out this very much neglected part of permaculture.

    Reply

    • Posted by wooddogs3 on July 19, 2016 at 4:57 pm

      So, are you going to write the book that I’m looking for? ☺️
      I completely agree with you about the flour-and-sugar stuff. Some of those recipes remind me of an old story about a writer who got an assignment to write a breadcrumb cookbook for a company that packaged breadcrumbs, went to the library and copied a bunch of recipes that contained breadcrumbs, and doubled the breadcrumbs in each recipe. Book written! Just take any standard recipe, shoehorn in some of the substance of interest, and call your job done.

      I am looking for something more along the line of John Kallas’s book “Edible Wild Plants,” where he sorts greens into flavor profiles and then gives suggestions about using them in ways that respect their individual taste and texture. Euell Gibbons did something similar, with his emphasis on cooking and pleasure in eating the harvest.

      I think that more people will get interested in permaculture if they have more exciting ideas about what to do with unusual produce.

      Reply

      • You know I would love nothing more! I need to get through my current writing project (surprise coming soon). Funny that I was mulling over the idea today before coming across this post.

        I would like to dig a little further into the science of flavor before such an undertaking. I have a very strong feeling there is a lot there I don’t know that would really help in this situation of bitters and very strong flavors. For instance, our conversation about bitter flavors taking on a nuttiness when mixed with other greens. I will let you know when I break into a good book on the subject.

        The basic structure of appreciating each plant’s flavor over giving out a list of recipes is attractive to me though. It is badly needed if we expect people to use perennial vegetables. Having a CSA, I am always getting the question “How do you cook this?” I have in fact had someone ask me how to cook onions as they had never used them before! We expect this to start growing the perennial menagerie?

        I think I will take you up on that suggestion.

  2. Posted by wooddogs3 on July 19, 2016 at 10:28 pm

    I am thrilled that you are giving this serious thought. I read Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste when I was 25, which is lo these many years ago now, and I recall thinking that it was a serious book (19th century) about how/why we enjoy food but don’t recall specific content. I’ll look into what’s out there and let you know if I come across anything really interesting.

    Reply

  3. Thank you so much! I read some articles last night and am really excited what I’m finding already.

    Reply

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