Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Cookbook Review: Earth to Table

There was a ton of buzz about this Canadian effort by chef Jeff Crump and pastry chef Bettina Schormann on places like Twitter, and I was really looking forward to getting my copy. As the title suggests, Earth to Table: Seasonable Recipes from an Organic Farm celebrates the simplicity of bringing food from the garden or farm directly to your plate in a world where such a process is usually overcomplicated by corporate agriculture.

The authors run the kitchens at Ancaster Old Mill in Ancaster Ontario, and funny, thing I actually ate at this restaurant when I was 19 years old as it was where my uncle held his wedding reception. I remember it as being the swankiest event I'd ever attended in my life (there was an open bar!), and even 16 years later, it's still up there in the rankings.

But back to the book. The flap reads: "Having learned the secret of local cuisine working in world-famous restaurants like Alice Waters's Chez Panisse, Jeff Crump set about developing a network of farmers to keep his own restaurant's kitchen humming all year round. It was not long before he was out in the fields himself, alongside pastry chef and collaborator Bettina Schormann, planting onions and harvesting the heirloom wheat that would form the backbone of her menu's breads and desserts."

Starting with spring, Jeff & Bettina take us on their journey as their forage and farm their way through seasonal, local, and sustainable cooking. Also members of the Slow Food movement, their passion about their mission jumps off the page. Highlighting other chefs, restaurants, and their earth-to-table relationships in the USA, Canada, and the UK, the book exposes how a quiet movement is beginning to become main stream in the industry.

As a baker, Bettina's wheat story was particularly interesting to me. She sourced out an heirloom strain of wheat, planted it, tended it, harvested it, ground it, and baked with it. Her trials and tribulations were a fascinating read, and even though she didn't get much wheat in the end, what came across strongly to me was just how much we take a staple such as wheat for granted in our society.

As for the recipes, they are simple, not full of fancy ingredients, and I'm looking forward very much to cooking with this book. I have a whole bunch of recipes bookmarked for future reference, and with Thanksgiving coming up, I'm going to be trying some for our two family dinners.

Earth to Table is far more than a cookbook; the information about foraging, farming, and sourcing local ingredients is well-presented and I got a lot from reading the non-recipe sections of the book. Of particular interest to me was Jeff's explanation of the difference between dirt and soil - something I'd never thought of, and something I need to reconsider as I continue with my own gardening and earth to table journey.

This is an amazing reference book I'll definitely be keeping on my shelves.

9 comments:

Natashya KitchenPuppies said...

I am so glad you loved it too - it really is a terrific book.
I remember going there when I was a teen too - a friend had invited me as her plus one for a work event and, since I was the date of a woman - I wore my grandfather's old tux! Ah, youth. :)

Wandering Coyote said...

That's hilarious - and cheeky! I love it!

Nat said...

Hi WC, What a great review ! Thanks so much...I love collecting cook books too and so... am always looking out for a good buy with new knowledge ! I am so interested in organics... growing and cooking my own vege's is JUST such a huge dream though. As, I am stuck in the hustle and bustle of nyc and therefore am temporarily doomed...apart from the consolation of my window box which grows basil and Roma tomatoes on a very itsy bitsy scale ! Although I haven't heard of the chef/ author of the book you've mentioned prior to this, I find it very interesting and will look into it. I suppose it must be very similar to Jamie Oliver's book from last year " Jamie at home' which I own... he too talks of farming your own produce etc...just lovely...is'nt it?! ...Thanks again WC!

Wandering Coyote said...

Hi Nat! You might be interested in this book, written by a girl in NYC who preserves in a tiny kitchen:

http://retorte.blogspot.com/2009/06/book-review-well-preserved.html

Sounds like it might be up your ally. There is a lot of good info in it!

Bob said...

I like the sound of simple and without fancy ingredients. Heh. Sounds like a good one.

girlichef said...

What a great review! After seeing this on Natashya's site and now on yours...I want it more than ever. Sounds like a wonderful book.

Palidor said...

Dirt and soil... I'm guessing that the latter is the medium for growing vegetation and the former is, well, dirt! Sounds like a very interesting read.

Shelly W said...

Looks like a great book. I love recipes/cookbooks that showcase seasonal ingredients.

Elra said...

I don't have that book, will try to look for it. Thanks for the review.

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