Casaubon's Book

I get a lot of books to review, and I don’t write enough book pieces, I fear. Because of this, books I really like, and books you might want to read get missed, so I’ve decided in the spirit of New Years Resolutions to do 31 short book reviews in the month of January, of books I think are important. Some are important because they offer practical skill sets my readers might want to have, others are important because they offer insights, or philosophical explorations, or even an escape into an imaginary flight worth taking.

I’m not promising a review a day – I like a day off now and again, but I will endeavor to do 31 this month. What better book to start with than a cookbook I’ve loved for well over a decade that focuses on eating locally in the winter? Eating local food in the cold weather isn’t nearly as hard as people think it is, but it does require that you change the way you eat a little – and that can be hard for people.

I bought Lane Morgan’s _Winter Harvest Cookbook_ years ago from a street vendor in Boston. It caught my eye because back in the late 1990s, who thought about eating local foods in the dead of winter? I was excited to see recipes for parsnips and other favorites of mine, and for the greens that I was at the time keeping over wintered on a fourth floor balcony in Somerville, MA. Later, I found references to the book in Carla Emery’s _Encyclopedia of Country Living_, including Morgan’s observation that American cuisine had (at the time, anyway) really failed to choose the best tasting options for its homegrown cold climate cuisine – thus, the ubiquitous assumption about putting up food for the winter was canned green beans, rather than season extended spinach or root cellared squash.

Twenty years after its original publication, Eliot Coleman has taught a generation about season extension and winter CSAs are starting to proliferate, and there’s an emerging recognition that the vegetables that are bred to gain flavor in storage or that can be grown in cold climates over the winter are the tastiest food there is – infinitely better than the watery tomatoes picked green or the oversized strawberries. The new, updated version of the book, released by New Socety for the book’s twentieth anniversary, is even more wonderful, and more timely than the original. When I got the new one, I immediately passed my old, thumbed edition with the stained pages and notes about adjustments on to a friend – it just isn’t the kind of book you get rid of, really, but one lovingly pass on.

Among the new recipes I’ve tried in the last month were the cranberry horseradish relish (fabulous – it was meant to go with chicken, but we kept eating it straight!), the nutella pudding cake (not only delicious but non-dairy and gluten free – most of her recipes have suggestions for adaptation to special diet), the vegan winter pizza (very good, although we added some home-dried tomatoes to the mushrooms, onions and spinach which we thought were even better), teriyaki beets (what a brilliant idea – yum!) and the English Parsnip pie. The only recipe we tried that I wasn’t wild about was the Turkish Cauliflower and Lentil Stew, which I thought was a little bland, but we jazzed it up with some additional seasonings and everyone at it happily. One of my sons preferred the original, though, so it may be a matter of faste.

I have to add, although I fear you won’t believe me, it was only as I was composing this review and glanced at the appendices that I realized she lists my own blog as an internet resource – I’m incredibly flattered that someone whose work I’ve admired so long knows who I am!

Morgan lives in the Pacific Northwest, and so has a wider variety of winter produce available than I do, but the book offers so many wonderful and varied recipes that no matter how cold your climate, you’ll find plenty to make it feasible for you to eat locally in the winter. I have a self-indulgently large collection of cookbooks, many of which I like to look at more than cook from, or which I have only used a few recipes over the years. Morgan’s cookbook is the kind of book you turn to again and again and again, and there is no higher praise I can bestow than saying this isn’t just a cookbook, but an old friend.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Susan
    January 3, 2011

    I have a largish collection of cookbooks too, and the Middle Eastern and Indian cookbooks get the most use. Of the European/American, I have one however that I have used a large portion of — it’s a cookbook from the early fifties and contains recipes submitted by housewives all over the country. Lots and lots of simple recipes using what you have in your kitchen, with a minimum of canned/frozen/packaged ingredients and those are rare at that. It’s called The Family Home Cookbook.

    I am definitely going to have to see about buying this one too, though — I’ve been in the process of thinning out the ones that just mostly take space and collect dust, but a new one that will actually get used is a good buy.

  2. #2 Yvonne Rowse
    January 3, 2011

    Thank you for this. I’ve ordered the book on your recommendation. I bought a book called ‘The Winter Vegetarian’ many years ago only to find that it was full of recipes using aubergines (eggplant), courgettes (zucchini) and other ingredients which could only be considered winter vegetables in a much warmer country than the UK. I was very disappointed but haven’t got rid of it because it does have a decent recipe for sprout soup.

  3. #3 Lane
    January 3, 2011

    Hello Sharon, and guess what!?

    This goes both ways. When I went to Gabriola Island this summer to visit the folks at New Society, they talked to me about this brilliant feminist/scientist/farmer/blogger/mom until I really felt left out that I didn’t know about you.

    Then they gave me a copy of Independence Days. When I started going through it I learned to my amazement that:
    1. It mentioned Winter Harvest (the 1st one). Wow. I was honored.
    2. I already was a fan of yours and just hadn’t realized it. I had come across Casaubon’s Book a couple of years ago, talked it up on my own blog, and read it often.

    So hello to you, a continent and generation apart, and thank you so much for this beautiful review–the kind of response that makes cooks and writers want to keep going.

    Lane Morgan

  4. #4 bridget
    January 3, 2011

    We have the earlier version of this cookbook, and really like it. My family isn’t particularly good at eating seasonally, but I am trying to be a bit more deliberate about that.

    Those new recipes sound especially tempting!

    I guess I should wait to see the other 29 reviews before I start buying more books. :)

    – Bridget, also with a large collection of cookbooks

  5. #5 annette
    January 3, 2011

    I LOVE this cookbook too – its the principle one I use in the wintertime. And since I have the great good fortune of living in the Pacific Northwest, it totally applies to me. I get most of my cookbooks from the library, but I checked this one out so many times that I finally bought a copy a couple years ago. Actually buying a copy is the highest recommendation I can give!

  6. #6 Julie Mason
    January 4, 2011

    Oh, Sharon. This is not going to be good. As both a huge fan and a book-aholic (bibliophile does not begin to describe me), I have a feeling my book budget for all of 2011 is going to be blown before Ground Hog’s Day. But…thank you!

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