With the growing season just starting up here in the Great White North, I have been using my library of gardening books a lot in the past months. These are some of what I consider essentials and why:
1. Vegetables from an Italian Garden: You may be asking yourself why there are cookbooks on this list? I ask you, how else do you get inspired to decide what to grow if you have no idea what you like to eat? This book is a collection of vegetable recipes from the culinary bible The Silver Spoon re-indexed into a season-by-season guide, complete with planting and harvesting tips. The reason I love The Silver Spoon, and subsequently this book, is because I have never cooked a bad recipe from them even when the recipes seem utterly foreign to me. Case and point, roughly four years ago my sister and I were faced with the age old dilemma of making a dinner for six while at the same time being burdened by having too much cabbage in the fridge. Enter cabbage sauce, an idea so ingenious I still carry shame with me to this day for trying to discourage our attempt at this recipe. Basically, it ends up being a rustic béchamel in an odd way. It is not silky like béchamel, but the potato and butter (I’ve also substituted this for olive oil with success) add a creaminess and the cabbage maintains a rough honest texture. Combined with a rustic pasta like a tagliatelle, the monochromatic dish is an ode to no fuss, rustic, minimalist cooking- if there is such a thing.
2. The Family Meal: This book is what made me order seeds to grow both cilantro and parsley this year and revolutionized the way I think about food storage and organization in meal preparation. A book of basics, from how to set up your pantry to sauces and 31 meal plans, it encourages a military level of planning and organization in the kitchen. The book is based around the meals the staff would eat everyday at elBulli before service began. The sauce section encourages cooking batch sauces and freezing them to add instant depth to meals. I had never used picada before this book and will never go back to my pre-picada days. There is also something that makes you feel so cool using this book. When I cook from The Art of French Cooking I feel the way Amy Adams looks like in Julia and Julia, all girly and meek. When I cook from this book, where recipes are offered up in servings of 2, 6, 20, and 75, I feel bad ass and like I am in a real kitchen. Get this book, it is a chance to start saying things like, “I’m in the weeds,” on a regular basis.
3. Put Em’ Up: Not only is this a pretty book, it is especially practical for northern gardeners that have a short season and would benefit from becoming savvy in the food storage department. One thing this book did for me was make me less freaked out about knowing if I canned things properly and what is normal versus abnormal in the world of preserving. I will no longer throw out my jams for all the wrong reasons! Another awesome part about this book is that it is not just about canning. It has expanded my idea of preserving to include winter storage, freezing, drying, fermenting, and infusing. My book favourite is the kimchi. You can put it on anything really. We usually use it in soups, salads, sandwiches, and tacos (Self note: I am realizing typing this post I should have planted more cabbage based on my go-to recipes).
4. Seed Sowing and Saving: This is a book that I got as a present and boy would it have made my life easier if I used it more. Literally every mistake I have made this year in gardening could have been averted if I had just read this book or gone to the corresponding section when I was unsure about something. This book is as its title suggests, a bible for those who want to grow from seed and then reap the full benefits of that work by harvesting both plants and seed for future years. Its a cradle to grave guide to your garden with no stone unturned.
5. Make Your Garden Feed You: This is a reprint of a book first published in 1940 for wartime gardeners, hence the immediacy and conviction of the title, as I suppose at that time many had little choice but to ‘make’ their gardens feed them. This book is great if you are a thrifty-type and would like a historic perspective on vegetable gardening. Don’t get me wrong, this book is completely relevant to today’s gardener, but it also will enlighten you to issues you may not even realize. What if you do not have access to any fertilizer, to seeds, or need to rely completely on your garden for food through the winter? Those are issues that are dealt with in this book. It was the first time I ever thought about yield of plants and nutrients.
6. The Secret Garden: Why is this book useful to a gardener, because it speaks to me. I read it again in university in a children’s literature class and it creates this unequivocal image in my mind of what I want my garden to look and feel like the way that only reliving books you read as a child can. I’m not saying buy The Secret Garden (It is free to download see link), but having this image in my mind is inspirational to me in the same way I daydream having an attic so I can pen a newspaper called the Pickwick Portfolio with my sister. It also helps me to invest in perennials when all I want is the quick high of annuals.
7. Chatelaine’s Gardening Book: Published in 1970 this is my best garage sale book find ever. This book is great because it makes me feel like a lady and is about gardening in Canada. I cannot count how many times I have been disappointed by a book that would otherwise be great except for my climate, which ends up rendering it irrelevant. This book covers gardening in all parts of Canada including the Yukon and NWT. The other useful thing is that while having a plethora of info on growing vegetables it has even more info on growing ornamentals, indoor plants, and trees. This book is divided into five parts that cover fundamentals of layout and design in addition to tips and tricks for growing. The first part ‘what is your kind of garden?’ covers gardening on balconies, patios and in inner cities. These are some of many reasons to start looking for this book at garage sales and thrift stores (Hint: The spine is one third blue two-thirds white).
8. Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: New as of this year to my collection is this gem of book that I would describe as a magnum opus if there ever was one. In summary it takes the whole of knowledge from a life’s work and passes it to others. Holzer gardens a self created microclimate that spans over 100 acres in Austria at 5,000 feet above sea level. The plant recommendations and lists are unrivaled in my other books and the vegetable section, which includes plants that work well together and can been grown to support each other instead of using stakes, was awe inspiring to me. One of my favorite parts was the section on tree grafting. I have never done this before, but my high school boyfriend had an Opa that I was extremely fond of who did this. In his small city plot, behind the tiny wartime house, set amongst a clothes hanging system and various pots of tomatoes, grew a single apple tree. That apple tree grew no less than five varieties of apples and there was pride in that tree even if no one ever mentioned it. The magic and wonder I felt when I first learned that you could do this was recreated for me many times throughout this book and I recommend it for anyone with an interest in gardening let alone an interest in permaculture.
9. Creating a Forest Garden: This is another permaculture book and though very UK focused, I still love this book. It is a bucket list ambition of mine to have a forest garden and this book did a great job of providing examples of how to do that, especially if you are not starting with clear and tilled land. The book covers planning, design, planting, maintenance and a huge 450+ index of plants, not just for eating but for things like helping other plants, helping animals, medicinal uses, and even for basket weaving. One issue I have always thought of as a barrier to forest gardening is the acidic soils of northern forests due to the number of pine needles. This book provided some good options and plants for dealing with this problem. The book has a good layout, both for reading cover to cover and for using as a reference book.