Edible Reads

The Summer List: Books for weekend adventures, feeding friends, and enjoying a quiet day at home reading. 

Ripe for Change, Garden Based Learning in Schools
By Jane Hirschi

Jane Hirschi, the founder of Cambridge-based non-profit CitySprouts, is a local hero. With this book, she is positioned to become a national hero as well. Ripe for Change is a terrific how-to handbook for parents and schools about how to bring together two natural friends: school children and edible gardens. If you think about the outdoor context of most urban schools you’ve visited, you’ll think of parking lots and playgrounds. Green isn’t the predominant theme in urban school design. CitySprouts’ goal is to make a productive, education-rich green garden part of every primary and middle school.

In 1999 Hirschi and a few other parents decided to foster a garden-based learning project in Cambridge’s twelve K-8 schools. Unlike most of us who have a wonderful idea for our kids during the brief interlude they are in a school grade, Jane Hirschi stuck with it, long after her kids had graduated from the system. Her mini-empire of CitySprouts expanded from Cambridge to the Boston Public Schools in 2012, and plans are to keep growing its urban footprint.

The book is a slim useful volume for advocates—parents, teachers, and gardening-loving volunteers who want to organize a CitySprouts-style education program in their school districts. The book is easy to read, with five different case studies from around the country for garden-based education programs. Included are strategies for engaging with school principals and teachers, barriers to success (funding is a key challenge), prototype letters, and curriculum development guides to integrate garden education into the regular classroom curriculum. Hirschi’s book gives savvy advice to use as one learns how to partner successfully with school systems. Hirschi has packaged her work and documented the work of others so that this how-to-helper will easily accelerate the cultivation of gardens in schoolyards around the country.

Virgin Territory
By Nancy Harmon Jenkins

You could mistake Virgin Territory for a mere lush cookbook with its gorgeous photos of over 100 excellent and new Mediterranean recipes. But the real reason to buy this book is that as you read it, with the author’s slightly bossy voice in your ear, you fall in love with the lore and lure of extra virgin olive oil. There is a reason that US shoppers spend over $700 million a year on EVOO, (second only to the dollars we spend on chocolate and coffee), and Nancy Harmon Jenkins understands why.

Nancy Harmon Jenkins is the culinary world’s foremost authority on olive oil. But she isn’t one of the rapturous food writers; she is an investigative you-can’t-fool-me reporter who loves her topic. Author of many books including her bestselling Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, she is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Saveur, Food & Wine, and Bon Appetit, as well as an international lecturer and leader of food tours around the world. A founder of Oldways Preservation Trust and a mainstay at the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA), she lives alternately in her hometown of Camden, Maine and on an olive oil farm in Tuscany.

Harmon Jenkins shares her love, her biases, her irritated discoveries of duplicitousness in the olive oil world, and her deep friendships with olive oil producers around the world as only a uniquely talented writer can. Harmon Jenkins is a master at giving you new insights, blasting away some of the myths: not all olive oil, even if it is packed is gorgeous bottles and labeled “pure EVOO from Tuscany,” is either pure or Tuscan. Nor does it taste good. By the way, a tip from the pro: never buy olive oil in a clear bottle. Go for dark bottles and tins. “Light is the enemy of olive oil,” she says.

American Burger Revival: Brazen Recipes to Electrify a Timeless Classic
By Samuel Monsour and Richard Chudy

You gotta love a book where Boston author, chef and burger critic, Richard Chudy, confesses in the first paragraph that his first burger-crush was at Papa Gino’s, and writes of his later revelation at In-N-Out. Just as quickly, co-author and local chef Samuel Monsour conjures up his two icons: Jean-Georges Vongerichten and the Corner Bistro in New York City’s West Village.

This is not a pretentious burger book. It’s great summer stuff, down home and greasy, ready for your ketchup and burger juice splatters while you chomp your way through the recipes and tips. The recipes are gusto-boosts. Lots of homemade relishes, mustards and mayos, hot sauces and BBQ sauces, and a killer recipe for a sauce called, Mark’s Ill Dip, with bacon and sour cream and hot sauce, all collected together in a chapter called “Addicted to the Sauce”. But the best part of the book, honestly and truly, is the opening chapter, “The Meat of the Matter.” It is the first truly helpful handbook about how to create your own “house” blend of beef for burgers, which beef to buy, which cuts to grind for ideal ooze-worthy ratios of protein to fat, and how to combine beef cuts for maximum umami. I am not at all sure why a 33% blend of oxtail, skirt steak and brisket is called the Dennis Rodman, but I tried it and it was a winner. This is a book for lusty carnivores, written and battle tested by passionate, irreverent burger boyos, and it couldn’t be better timed for your summer grilling pleasure.

Baking with Less Sugar
By Joanne Chang

Who else but Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery + Cafe could come up with a cookbook with this somber, self-improvement title and make you want to try every single one of the 60 recipes in it? Listening hard to the health news about excess sugar in our culinary world, it’s a triumph that our iconic local pastry goddess would rework many of her best recipes and re-jigger them with less or zero refined sugar, without sacrificing any of the yum. And before anyone panics, there’s a whole chapter devoted to chocolate.

The recipes are glorious, fleshed out with Chang’s funky, me-to-you style of recipe writing. My results, (I am an impatient, uneven baker at best) are impressive. I never actually noticed that there was less of anything when a whole pan of Pear Cardamom Scones disappeared. Or the Fresh Peach and Ricotta Tart? This is anything but a dreaded diet book. It’s lowsugar, not no-sugar, and there are several wonderful chapters devoted to baking with honey, molasses and maple syrup. Honey Cashew Morning Buns anyone? Maple Pecan Ice cream or a Pear Maple Tarte Tatin?

I think that this collection of low-sugar recipes will nudge out Chang’s earlier books. The recipes here are just as delicious, just as varied as in her previous baking successes, and somehow with less sugar the fruit flavors sing out more brightly and the chocolate Double Whoopie Pie soothes my edgy, want-it now sweet tooth into a sensual and satisfied lull.

The Raw Milk Answer Book: What you Really Need to Know About Our Most Controversial Food
By David E. Gumpert

I had no idea that I could possibly have 200 questions about raw milk. Admittedly, I was skeptical that this small Q & A style book would keep my attention, since I’d not given much thought to raw milk other than to mourn the blissful variety of cheeses I can’t buy because of pasteurization requirements. I had no idea that in the United States raw milk is the only food that is prohibited from being sold interstate. Nor did I really get the difference between homogenization, pasteurization, and fractionating. So I read on, fascinated by the public health history of the raw-versus-pasteurized issue, trying to understand the health and market conditions behind the raw milk issue. Note: the requirement that all milk be pasteurized started with one state, Michigan, in 1947, and other states began to follow suit. The book goes on, calmly dissecting the arguments for and against medicinal benefits of raw milk, and rebutting flaky data with references and more data. The author does an excellent job of explaining the current artisanal market for raw milk, where and how to get it, and why it is an expensive proposition for farmers to produce safe raw milk and for consumers to purchase. Truly, at the book’s end, I had no idea whether the current commerce and health regulations on raw milk are justified or not, but I sure as heck know a lot more about the issue now.

Turtle Truffle Bark! Simple Indulgent Chocolates to Make At Home
by Hallie Baker

Hallie Baker, the confiserie queen with chocolate shops in Gloucester and Salem, has written a terrifying book. It made me believe that I could actually master making three of the most addictive bon-bons known to humankind: crunchy turtles, chocolate truffles (please interrupt your reading here for an ode to those soft chocolate orbs rolled in cocoa), and chocolate barks. As if the recipes which read deceptively weren’t dangerous enough, the photographs by Allan Penn are scandalous. Baker is a talented coach. She warms us up with a series of chocolate barks which she describes as “chocolate spread out on parchment with an offset spatula”. The secret, she says, is in the “tempering”, a word I’ve never before understood, but now I do. It’s the process of heating and cooling the chocolate without burning it—which is what I usually do—that makes the chocolate shiny and sinful. Following Hallie’s directions, even the equipment list sounds like a snap. Other than a chocolate thermometer, I found I had everything else at hand. And there are two basic heating options: your trusty double boiler or the microwave. The recipes are easy and greedily great. Once you’ve mastered the bark, you just add in the crunchy and chewy bits as you go. Warming up with the bark, you advance to turtle making, your confidence running high, and from there, on to the delicate truffles. Dark Rum Truffles. Mocha Truffles, Coconut Curry Truffles, Chinese Five Spice Truffles. The moon might be made of green cheese, but my personal planet is one solid block of chocolate. If yours is too, you’ll nestle this book right next to your heart.

The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook
By Diana Rogers with Andrew Rogers

In many ways, this book is a field guide to changing the world. For those of us old enough to remember it, it reminds me of the whack on the consciousness we received from the original Whole Earth Catalogue, if the Whole Earth Catalogue were singlemindedly food focused. Diana Rogers is a Massachusetts-based nutritionist and registered dietitian who is personally and professionally committed to a sustainable food system, or as she puts it, “optimal food for human health and for the environment”. Her YouTube channel, Sustainable Dish, is a fun, irreverent lens into life as a “dirt lover” on her farm. Along the way, Rogers became convinced that a simple —but not tedious—Paleo diet was better for her and for her planet. This book is a treasure trove of recipes, information and arguments for and on sustainability. The recipes bowled me over. I hadn’t imagined Paleo would go much beyond plain grilled this and that, but here are ideas for Kohlrabi Cakes with Bacon and Dill, Grilled Eggplant Stacked with Indian Spiced Beef, Lemon Crepes with Blackberries and Peaches and Birch Bark Sun Tea. The first half of the book is the meaty stuff—how to think about how we grow food, where we buy it, and how to prepare it for maximum nutrition and health. I’ll never own a goat, but I loved reading her section on goat farming and for a time, I thought, why not? Rogers describes goats as playful creatures, a cross between dogs and sheep, and suddenly in my mind I was making chèvre in Cambridge, cuddled up with my goat in front of the flat-screen. Well then, coming back to reality, maybe a beehive? Her mini-sections on nutrition and sustainability topics like wild fish vs. farmed fish are sharp, jargon-free and convincing. This is a simply wonderful book that could easily become your personal guide back to the promise of one Whole and sustainable Earth. Ok. Maybe not the bees for me either, but a girl can dream.

Simply Ancient Grains
By Maria Speck

I loved Speck’s first book, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals. And so did everyone else. Speck’s first book won virtually every single book award the year it was published. But I like this one better. It’s simply more fun to read and to cook from. Less preachy about the health benefits. More engaged with the recipes, and with preparing ancient grains for real-life home timetables, if not, as the writer puts it, “dinner on the table in 15 minutes”. But with a little advance prep, her “two-step” process, ancient grain-based meals can be crunchily ready before cranky sets in. Much as you might marinate meat the night before, in many of Speck’s recipes you boil the grains for a few minutes and let them steep and swell overnight. The recipes are enticing (and the fantastic photos by Erin Kunkel boost the urge to make them right now.) I made Red Rice and Beet Cakes with Honey Mustard the first night I had the book in my hands, Minted Lamb Sliders later in the week, and the Roasted Portobello Mushrooms with Hazelnut Buckwheat Stuffing for a mini-dinner party a few nights later, kicking off that meal with Quinoa Bites with Smoked Salmon and Dill). Next up for me: New England Cider Mussels with Fresh Cranberries and Bulgur. The cranberries add a citrusy zip. (The hard cider helps too.)

My guests were suitably impressed. A special note, in this book Speck is very attuned to the growing army of gluten-sensitive eaters and cooks. It’s terrific to have so many interesting, achievable, gorgeous recipes to share widely and without concerns. This is a terrific cookbook to add to your shelf. You’ll shop from it, cook from it, learn from it, and most importantly, enjoy the results.

This story appeared in the Summer 2015 issue.