Book Review: The River Cottage Cookbook December 22, 2015 08:44

By guest reviewer, Carmen Ostrander.

The River Cottage Cookbook

Calling this a cookbook is misleading, even though it’s brimming with almost 100 fantastic recipes.

Like any good homesteader I'm constantly fantasizing about edging my way closer to the edges of the grid in the hope of one day falling off it altogether. It is clear there will be no shortage of jobs to be done when I get there. That thought alone at times overwhelms. Where to start? So much to learn. If I headed for the hills tomorrow and had to take one thing with me, this would be it.

I haven’t seen the show the book is based on. I’m sure it’s wonderful, given the enthusiasm, evocative language and images through which the premise of "Maximize pleasure and minimize rubbish” is communicated. The tone throughout is rousing and engaging, though thankfully pulls up short of evangelical.

Author Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is here to help, "Help you enjoy your life more" based on the philosophy that quality of life can be readily enhanced by increasing your awareness and connection with what you put in your mouth, and where it comes from. There’s lot’s of information on how to make better choices, and encouragement to have a go at growing, raising or making it yourself if you’re up for it.

It’s full of sensible, practical information that some might call ‘life hacks’, but the more whimsical among us might call wisdom of the ages. Did you know you can use balls of human hair to deter foxes?

Hugh has drawn on his impressive network (community) of foodies and farmers to inspire you, and translated their know-how in to plain no-fuss recipes and tips. Any cookbook that measures wine in “sloshes” is my kind of cookbook. Sauté up a couple pounds of zucchini as directed and from there, whip up a range of dishes from soufflé to soup. Or get out and forage, not just because it’s "something for nothing”, but because “it's something for everyone… sharing an unsung communion, ingesting a little of the wilderness spirit".

The River Cottage Cookbook is divided in to sections: Garden, Livestock, Fish and Hedgerow (foraging). The livestock (meat) section might push up against your limits with tips on squirrel hunting, head cheese making and chicken neck wringing, supported by the matter of fact photography of Simon Wheeler. There’s something rustic and radical about seeing a dinner table strewn with wine glasses and bones. A half devoured a rib cage and spine roast, resting in a pan. The pea & lettuce soup looks good too…

It's a cookbook, manifesto, resource and ultimately a source of inspiration, that respectfully acknowledges wherever you might be on the homesteader continuum. It moves fluidly from the supermarket shelf to farm and back encouraging you to do what you can, when you can, while acknowledging the increasingly political nature of food consumption and production.