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The River Cottage Cookbook
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59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
After falling in love with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's The River Cottage Meat Book, I couldn't wait to get my hands on the River Cottage Cookbook, another book originally published in the UK and now available here. This is, without question, a wonderful, 5-star book... but I think "cookbook" is a bit of misnomer. There are 100 recipes, but they are illustrative of the author's advice rather than a set of "what to make for dinner" options.

Instead, most of the 430 pages are devoted to what I can only call instructions for a sustainable food-aware lifestyle. That might sound a little hippie-ish or zenlike, but I can't come up with a better expression. So let me get more specific by quoting from his introduction: "One of the most satisfying things about my life at River Cottage is that I've hardly ever had a bad meal here. ...I have never had that experience that used to seem all too common, where I find myself thinking, 'Why am I eating this rubbish?'" His goal, says F-W [don't ask me to type that name again!], is to help you maximize the amount of pleasure you get from food and minimize, or even eliminate, the rubbish.

The result is a book chock full of food *awareness*. The author isn't promoting complete self-sufficiency; he's happy to buy things (like bananas and wine) he can't promote himself. However, most of this book addresses the practical matters of raising and butchering livestock, growing a garden, fishing, and eating wild food. If you're old enough to remember the Foxfire books, and other "back to the land" titles that were common in my hippie youth, this book will bring such books to mind.

Organizationally, the book is split into four main sections (garden, livestock, fish, hedgerow) and then subsections within them (hedgerow includes wild meat, hedgerow greens, wild mushrooms, fruits and nuts, recipes). There's also a addendum for the U.S. edition, which discusses such things as the regional differences in "organic" labels.

He has plenty of specific advice in every category. The garden section covers how to prepare a garden, including dealing with pests and how to choose which plants to grow. Fortunately, for those of us unwilling or unable to plant a garden (much less those of us in Arizona, for whom his English recommendations are a wee bit unrealistic) F-W has plenty of advice on the best way to buy the items.

Since he expects that you're reading this book in order to become a small farmer yourself (or, at the very least, to understand where your food comes from), F-W assumes you need instruction on how to schedule the tasks involved in slaughtering pigs, build a ladder for chickens, or clean squid (aka cuttlefish). "There is no officially sanctioned way to dispatch a cuttlefish," he writes. "But personally I don't like to let them suffocate. So I give them a firm smack between the eyes with a stick or stone, and that seems to do the trick." The section on identifying, capturing and cooking the American signal crayfish (which has all but extinguished its native English cousin) made me want to wade into a creek immediately. (Even better, now I have more food-sourcing trivia than do most of my friends.)

Look how far I got before I mentioned a recipe! These are good, maybe great recipes, all very much in the comfort-food sort of cooking vein, knowing you'll have leftovers. After a recipe for pot-roast chicken and vegetables are three additional recipes: cold chicken with potatoes and anchovies; chicken with bacon, peas and cream (a sauce for pasta); and Mallorcan chicken croquettes.

Which is not to say the recipes are all peasant food. A random sample includes fennel risotto with scallops; classic boudin noir (since you'll have the pig blood...); homemade ketchup (start with 6 pounds of tomatoes); nettle soup.

I do love this book. It is entertaining, enlightening, laugh-out-loud funny ("Honey, I have to read this to you!" material abounds), and I have his chicken-in-the-pot recipe in my oven while I'm writing this review. I'm not sure how useful the book will be to me in the long run -- something tells me I shall not be raising any chickens, though I do like his instructions for smoking fish. But it is an incredibly *readable* book, and wholeheartedly enjoyable.
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2007
Format: Paperback
I hate this book. It makes me so terribly jealous of Hugh's country lifestyle. Filled with good, basic recipes and tons of information on growing foods and basic animal husbandry for anyone from city-dweller to rural smallholder, it is an upscale, up-to-date book in the vein of the old Carla Emery title "Encyclopedia of Country Living".

For city dwellers, in addition to Hugh's simple recipes, he offers plenty of good advice on how to choose the best of what is available at your grocer or supermarket. Plus, it's a healthy reminder of where food comes from.

It's a thick book. Real value for money! In these days of fast food and fast paced lifestyles, it pays to slow down and read and think and eat.

Now, I'm off to try his recipe for pumpkin risotto...
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Hugh manages to capture the natural enthusiasm he exudes for the subjects of food and self sustained living in his television show, in this book.
Nice pictures, a must have in any cookery book these days, are in abundance.
The book gives a good introduction to the worlds of animal husbandry and horticulture, which is exactly what he sets out to do, he doesn't get bogged down with detail and yet doesn't skip over things either.
The writing style is easy and informal, much like the tv show itself.
A must have for anyone who liked the show.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I think the book is quite amazing - I haven't had the opportunity to read a cookbook like this before. It is a book that one must take seriously - its not the sort of book you pull off the shelf when you are wondering what to cook for dinner. This is about how you approach food from birth to death, seed to fruit.

This a book that needs to time to read and digest and then think about what you can apply to your life style and where you live. River Cottage was a place only one can dream about, however to produce the results takes a lot more work than is immediately obvious.

I would have like a little bit more information on how the book focuses on lifestyle and what is needed to make theis book come to reality - it is for many the stuff of dreams.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
An inspirational book that should come with a big bold warning: `Read at your peril. This book will change your life'.

This is quite simply one of the best books ever written about food production, sourcing and meal creation. The way you view food will never be the same again once you have read this book. It's a recipe book, a back to nature lifestyle book, a book of ethics and morality that really gets you questioning our modern farming practices and the quality of food it produces, and so much more.

It's also a book that will have you yearning to return to nature, to start growing your own food, plant your own vegetable patch, to start raising some chickens and a pig or two. It'll get you wanting to make your own bacon, dry cure your own meats, produce your own chorizos and salami's, and make your own sausages. It'll inspire you to try new recipes, new ingredients, new food types. It'll stimulate you to be adventurous and inquisitive again about the food and what you eat. Ultimately it will get you to rediscover the joy of eating good home made food raised in a way that is respectful to both environment and animal welfare. And with it, it'll inspire a passion for food that you never had before. It did me.

I read this monster of a book in one go. It was un-put-down-able, and a real education and inspiration across the board. No wonder it won all the major prestigious cook book awards when it first came out. Whilst it is so much more than just a cook book, it is being sold with the word cook book in the title, so the key question is, how good are the recipes? In my view, based on the recipes I've followed, they are very good. I like the way he keeps them pretty simple and straight forward. No really fancy ingredients or excessive long list of hard to get seasonings. He's very happy in many cases to limit seasoning to pretty much salt and freshly ground black pepper, and I must say, having made many of these recipes, he's right. Good honest food with good honest taste.

I've been inspired to try a lot of things I hadn't really eaten before. His fresh tomato salsa and his rich tomato sauce with bacon recipes were really quite superb. I had low expectations on what such heavily tomato orientated recipes could deliver in terms of food enjoyment, and was delighted to find they delivered in bucketfuls.

I can't remember the time I'd eaten a chutney prior to buying this book. But this book inspired me to make one. Not only was it easy, the recipe for River Cottage Chutney is absolutely delicious, a total revelation. We've gone from a household that rarely ate chutneys to one where it makes an appearance on pretty much every meal occasion we can think of.

And I'd never even considered trying to make my own bacon from a piece of pork. But Hugh was so enthusiastic about this process I had to give it a go, and I'm pleased I did. My first attempt turned out a bit too salty (as Hugh had warned!) but what fun I had making it and what enjoyment I had eating it.

And this really is the wonder of this book. It brings back pleasure and fun into your food preparation and eating. It makes the food you eat that much more special. And for me, never a great cook or cooker, it's added a totally new dimension to my life, as I take up the challenge of exploring new recipes and meals.

I therefore have no hesitation in highly recommending this book to you. It is a must read book for anyone with the slightest interest in the food they eat. But be warned. His passion for food is contagious, and you may well end up having major lifestyle and food outlook changes. Not only will you start eating really good meals again, the chances are your views on food sourcing and farm animal welfare will never be the same again.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Good, honest easy cooking with a twist. Frank and funny with regard to making the most of the bounty of the countryside from nettle soup to bunny burgers. Perfect reference for making jams ans preserves to growing your own produce.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Just cut open a dry cured ham from a recipe in this book. Delectable! First try and I'm hooked! We raise our own pigs and never tried to do any dry curing before. Everything I learned about smoking meat I learned from Hugh via his cookbooks. If you want to play with your food on a whole different level, this is the book for you.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I am still reading through this book, but so far, I am enamored with it. The recipes are straightforward and honest, as is Hugh Fearing-Whittingsall's writing style. I am already pretty aware and already eat much in the manner he describes, but I thoroughly am enjoying the journey he takes the reader through.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Halfway through this book so far but it is SO informative and inspirational. I can't wait to start my own organic garden!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is great, I am captured by the beginning part of each chapter, it rates up there with the Jamie at home book by Jamie Oliver
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