Friday, March 26, 2010

My kind of food book

This stood out among the stacks of hardbacks currently dominating the front room (see Wednesday's post). If you can't read the small type in the photo, it's 'a guide to the edible plants of Britain'. I didn't need to do much actual foraging to get my hands on it; it arrived via DHL this morning. But I picked it up at three and have barely set it down since.

True, it's too heavy for a day out in the backpack – and in any case, the black and white pics aren't the greatest aid to identification. But there's plenty to admire about Miles Irving's book.

It's crisply ordered, by subdivisions of the plant kingdom (so no longer must enthusiasts of the dicotyledon plough aimlessly through a text in pursuit of their quarry). The practicalities you need – where to forage and when, and advice on those plants that might, in fact, kill you – are well presented. The trivia is fascinating. And, every few pages, a chef pitches in with a relevant recipe.

But what I like about it most is its inclusivity. I'm surrounded by glossy titles as I write this; as you'd expect, there are a fair few on the Hale and Hearty bookshelves, too. But there are only four or five cookbooks I use regularly. They don't tend to demand one-off, hard-to-find fresh ingredients that have no second life in the store cupboard, and (a pet hate, this) the methods don't require me to have the product of another recipe – for, say, a complex mussaman curry paste – in reserve. But finding and picking wild plants? Anyone can do it.

And they do. In his foreword, Mark Hix recalls going out to pick blackberries for his grandmother's pies. We all have memories like that. One of mine is eating beech nuts on country walks with my dad; one day I'll do the same with baby Frank. Irving's guide applies this sentiment to the broadest canvas. It's inspirational, rather than wishy-washy aspirational. The Ebury Press RRP is £30, but needless to say it's discounted here.

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