I was going to leave off writing about this book until I got back from holiday and until I’d actually cooked from it but I’ve spent so much time just browsing through it that I can’t wait to share. I’ve reached that stage in life where I like to garden, but living in a garden free flat limits my ambitions somewhat. The Scottish one has been very obliging with the use of his garden (he’s a gentleman like that) and the arrangement is fairly satisfactory from my point of view (he limits himself to a reserved ‘it’s very colourful’ when I call for updates and opinions). As a very part time gardener fruit and veg projects aren’t very practical, but herbs are perfect because they do at least allow me to indulge in some of those River Cottage style fantasies.
It might be that I already have a few books about herbs but as ever there is the quest for the perfect book – and if I’m not mistaken this might well be it. For this particular quest the grail is something that covers a plants properties, uses, harvesting, varieties, and of course recipes, decent illustrations don’t go amiss either. Jekka's book has all of this and a bit more – she gives some history, and perhaps best of all (and something I don’t think I’ve seen before) she advises what to do when you have a glut of something. So far herb butters aren’t something I’ve really experimented with but I’m feeling that this will be the year I do, I’m also planning more herb scented sugars, and herb salts as well (and not for the first time I’m wondering how many clothes I need – my wardrobe would make a very good pantry, it already doubles up as a wine cellar...)
The illustrations deserve a proper word as well; done by Hannah McVicar (Jekka’s daughter) they are really responsible for a lot of the charm of this book. Although quite stylised the plants are still instantly recognisable, and they delight me, photographs are all very well and good but the very factual ones aren’t always pleasing to the eye, and the very arty ones can be distracting. (I will confess that I’m not that bothered about cookbooks being illustrated, and avoid ones which feel to picture heavy. I want recipe’s, I’m paying for recipes dammit, and it’s recipes I’ll have – and yes there are of course shelves of exceptions to that rule.) Anyway, the thing about these illustrations is that they are beautiful without being distracting and they haven’t once made me mutter dark things about improbably perfect kitchens and improbably perfect lives. (Kitchen envy is a disease, I tell you I can’t help myself!)
There are fifty herbs featured and I hope to work about forty of them into the garden over the next few years (currently I’m on a measly 13). What will make this project such a pleasure is the combination of history, romance, medicine and ingredient that will be being planted and gathered, which I feel is very much in keeping with a book that celebrates all these things.