Reviewed by Clare Brook
Whereas the Covid-19 toilet paper debacle has been well publicized, the rush to buy vegetable seedlings is virtually unknown, perhaps because gardeners are calm and well mannered. Nevertheless, it is clear that this virus has brought the realization that a little bit of self-sufficiency is prudent, so the publication of Paul West’s The Edible Garden Cookbook & Growing Guide has arrived at a most opportune time.
Paul’s love of growing food began when he joined WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), an international organization that provides accommodation for volunteer members in exchange for five hours of work each day. His first experience with this organization was in Tasmania where he met a Frenchman, a retired carpenter who had fashioned a piece of Provence in northern Tasmania. This way of life, connecting with the land and the local community, was a life- changing experience. Paul went on to host the popular television series River Cottage Australia (SBS) and has appeared in Gardening Australia (ABC).
Paul now presents his wealth of knowledge in this beautiful 26.5 x 20.5 cm book that would make any coffee table proud. The presentation is of a high standard, imparting basic knowledge about the different ways to grow your own vegetables, plus keeping bees and chickens. This is a great book for beginner gardeners with the added bonus of providing some great recipes using home produce.
In the first section, ‘Grow’, Paul provides information about most types of growing mediums. For those who are space poor, ‘Growing in Pots’ details food that can be successfully grown on windowsills. Also for the space poor, in the chapter ‘Make a Wicking Bed’, Paul gives clear instructions, with photographs, that make the process easy to follow. This self-watering method of growing can be done in polystyrene boxes without drainage holes, and deep enough to grow a wide variety of vegetables. ‘Set up a Bokashi’ details a system for indoor composting that can cope with any foods scraps including meat and dairy.
‘Growing in a Backyard’ is an extensive chapter detailing so much: how to prepare garden beds, watering systems, a no-dig garden, composting, the rudiments of keeping bees and chickens. The ‘Rough Guide to Planting’ indicates the conditions needed for each vegetable from asparagus to zucchini. This section is a comprehensive account of basic information for the beginner to become self-sufficient. Once a garden is established, more information would be necessary. Paul does not go into diseases; lemon trees particularly need extra care in some climates.
‘Cook’ is where the recipes begin. And they are great recipes featuring homegrown produce. I have come across a few before but many others are new. Some of the more unusual recipes are: green bean and lentil salad with dried figs, feta and herbs; broad bean falafel with pickled red onion and yoghurt-cucumber sauce; shaved Brussels sprouts apple and walnut salad; pan-fried Brussels sprouts with anchovy butter (absolutely delicious); silverbeet with spiced chickpeas and almonds; grilled watermelon with chilli, lime and mint. A couple of cake recipes really stand out: carrot, almond and olive oil cake; potato and lemon drizzle cake.
Usefully, Paul provides ideas for processing surplus vegetables to store in the pantry or to refrigerate, such as: easy sauerkraut; fermented hot chili sauce; pickled green chilies; pickled dill cucumbers, and, really good homemade tomato sauce.
There is a brief section for meat with some original recipes that caters for the cheaper cuts of meat. I can recommend ‘barbecued butterflied chicken with green tahini sauce’ and ‘simple lamb liver pate’.
In the last chapter, Paul turns his attention to community gardens; flexible space where would-be gardeners can either have an individual plot or join the community garden collective. Paul gives good advice how to go about joining or starting up a community garden. Community gardening can lead to many fun events. Paul suggests a pickle party or passata day, brewing beer with friends or whipping up a batch of homemade sausages.
The Edible Garden Cookbook & Growing Guide is an excellent manual for beginner gardeners, celebrating people, place and produce.
by Paul West
Pan Macmillan Australia
Paperback $39.99 pp. 304