Monday, 8 February 2016

Pete Lawrence's 'The Allotment Cookbook'

It's always lovely to be sent a book for review and I was chuffed to bits to be sent Pete Lawrence's new book, not just because I know that we share a love of food growing, but because I was genuinely fascinated to see how the growing and the recipes might be knitted together to make a whole growing and cooking experience. I often find this a bit stilted in many plot to plate cook books and find that one outweighs the other uncomfortably, so I wanted to know how it was how the author was going to tackle this as someone who does both so successfully. 

What I find fascinating and yet somewhat sad to say the least, is that often folk who happily call themselves 'foodies' very often aren't at all engaged with where their food is grown or how. Having again and again been involved in food festivals talking about Incredible Edible Bristol and growing, it never fails to leave me saddened when parents hurry children past the grow your own table where you can sow a seed or make a self watering container, and yet reappear an hour or so later laden with goodies to take home, and I hope cook with. They seem completely disengaged from that powerful moment when seed, soil and water meet and the utter magic of growing something to eat begins.
Pete Lawrence is, of course, submerged daily in this foodie world, having worked with giants of the TV chef world including Nigella Lawson, The Hairy Bikers and the great, I think, Nigel Slater. So, I wondered, as an allotmenteer how would he make the foodie and the grower meet? 
What I think he does is sprinkle magic on both growing and cooking by making them merge seamlessly into one thing. The book is gentle and lilting and explains why the author feels the connection between the earth, growing and seasonal cooking of what has been grown is so vital. "When you hum the same tune as nature-get into its rhythm-then you will learn to savour produce at its very best", he says and all of us involved in food growing will nod and agree to those sage like words. 
The book begins with a great introduction to Pete, seasonality and his allotment, and then leads the reader through the seasons, with what to plant and harvest sections. Within each season is a section about that season, great articles about individual vegetables, herbs edible flowers and some wonderful recipes that really speak of the season in which they are placed. In the summer section, for example, there's a piece about the tomatoes the author loves to grow, alongside a range of tomato recipes that will take you from your first pickings through to using up any glut at the end with a great chutney 

Turning page after page there are refreshingly simple recipes that the reader knows will taste rich and fulfilling as they make the best of great, British ingredients that allotments are full of all year around. Great titles such as Autumn En Croute, a pastry parcel filled with squash, peppers,mushrooms and goats cheese, and Frighteningly Good Pumpkin Stew make the reader delve into the recipe and get involved. 
It's probably also worth commenting that you could buy this book for a newbie allotment holder, inspiring them to grow delicious crops whilst they dream of the recipes they are destined for. I often get asked by new growers what they should grow, and this book gives inspiration and aspiration to that new allotment holder or gardener.
So would I buy this book? 
The answer without doubt is yes, and not only would I buy it for me but also for others who I know would revel in its honesty and gentleness, it's authors appreciation of the seasons and the individual seasons produce. It's a refreshing look at seasonality, that sadly oft lost thing that supermarkets ignore, but that those of us who grow, or aspire  to grow, find not just fascinating but grounding and focusing.

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