Customer Review

59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Less a cookbook than a guide to a sustainable foodie lifestyle, September 27, 2008
This review is from: The River Cottage Cookbook (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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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 9, 2010 7:43:35 PM PDT
M. Brooks says:
I'm glad to see someone as impressed with this book as I. It is thoroughly enjoyable on many levels.

Cheers and happy eating to you and yours.
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Esther Schindler
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Location: Scottsdale, AZ USA

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