Here are our very top picks for books about cooking, gardening, and related subjects.
Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times by Steve Solomon (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2005). This is my go-to reference for vegetable gardening. Solomon advocates doing things the old-fashioned way: giving your plants plenty of elbow room to reduce the need for irrigation and purchased inputs. His recipe for low-cost all-purpose organic fertilizer is itself a sufficient reason to buy this book. He also provides detailed information on planting, maintaining, and harvesting individual crops, including potatoes and garlic.
The Food Lover’s Garden: Amazing Edibles You Will Love to Grow and Eat by Mark Diacono (Portland: Timber Press, 2011). This is the perfect book for winter inspiration. The gorgeous photographs of garden beds and semi-exotic vegetables and fruits had me swooning. Diacono’s philosophy is to grow what you can’t easily buy at the store, and he introduces readers to some lesser-known edibles that have proven their worth in his garden, including growing information as well as recipes. Diacono is writing from the UK, so all of his recommendations may not transfer perfectly to the mid-Atlantic US, but they’re too irresistible for me not to give them a shot.
The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture by Sir Albert Howard (The Devin-Adair Company, 1947). The founder of the organic farming movement, Howard conducted research for many years on trial farms in India, investigating the effectiveness of the traditional local practice of composting. Here he presents his astounding data, which show just how profoundly the health of the soil influences the health of plants and the health of the animals and people who eat them. This book can be slightly technical at times, but it is nonetheless a must-read. And a must-reread.
Practical Advice, Philosophy, and Humor:
The Contrary Farmer by Gene Logsdon (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 1994). This book talks more about farming than gardening, but its true subject is common sense. With great humor and insight, Logsdon explains why the ideal of large, industrial farms is misguided and how anyone who loves the farming life can make a profit at it, without going into debt for land or equipment. For anyone who loves plants, animals, and being their own boss, this book will be an absolute joy to read.
Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2005). These two ladies bring us a “world community cookbook” of recipes collected from hundreds of far-flung Mennonite kitchens and organized by the season in which their ingredients are freshly, locally available. This is a beautiful, glossy book, and the list of star ingredients running down the outer margin of each recipe is very handy for when you’ve brought something new out of the garden or home from the farmers’ market and have no idea what to do with it! Includes many vegetarian recipes as well as carnivore-pleasers.