Monday, February 27, 2012

Herbs - Nikki Duffy

A river cottage handbook. About Herbs. By Nikki Duffy - whose 'Source It' column was my favourite thing about 'The Guardian'. That's the sort of hat trick that makes the pile of other books about herbs I've got quite irrelevant. Happily the River Cottage Handbooks always have something new to add (I've been comparing with  Jekka's Herb Cookbook). I've been a fan from the beginning of this series, it's full of unexpected joys and really excellent writing. The strength of the whole River Cottage thing is in its community approach, because whilst I'm a fan of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall it's in a mild sort of way and definitely enhanced by his ability to find really good people to collaborate with (John Wright's contributions have been my high points but they're all good).

I made grand plans after reading the veg patch and fruit books (Mark Diacono) but I only have access to my partners garden and I'm not there enough to make large schemes practical (he doesn't like to water, and last year hired a mini digger when my back was turned - both to the detriment of the roses). I might still get my way regarding a Quince tree (or possibly a damson...) but the great thing about herbs is that a) they're growable on my windowsill, b) plenty of them positively like dry and arid conditions, though probably not mini diggers, c) the results are pretty much instant, and d) the plants are generally cheap to buy - roughly the same for a plant or seeds as a packet of cut herbs which is quite satisfactory really. 

I'm a little bit evangelical about fresh herbs, they were my gateway plants into gardening, are my concession to the good life, and are useful, and beautiful, both to me and bees. I bought a myrtle last year which has spent the last few months sitting on a windowsill all but ignored (it seems happy though) reading about it made me go and crush a leaf - the smell was as good as it was unexpected. I could have looked it up elsewhere but the joy of a new book like this is in how it makes familiar and overlooked things suddenly fresh and obvious. I can't tell you how excited I am by this book. 

I can tell you that it's nicely laid out - the information is useful but concise, isn't overly preachy, feels good to hold (Bloomsbury's design team nailed it with these books) and read, and has lots of good advice with regard to both growing and using. The recipes are imaginative (white chocolate and basil truffles) but not to challenging for those who look askance at a few petals scattered in a salad - I plan to insert the thin end of the wedge into that particular prejudice by introducing lamb loin with lavender. This is a really good book.


  1. I am not at all domestically inclined but I love everything River Cottage, I have tried and found wanting the works of Nigella and all the other celebrity chefs/cooks but River cottage books seem to be so practicle and generally idiot proof (what I need). I also love herbs and the ease with which even I can manage to have some success, like you I love that simple sensual reward of crushing a leaf of something you have grown. I was not aware of this book until your review, not sure if it is readily available where I am but I will keep an eye out for it. Lamb with lavender sounds exciting.

  2. Arabella, I was wondering where you were from but have worked out Australia. I like the River cottage books for all the same reasons you do - pretty much foolproof which makes me feel very competent and is nice for my ego. These handbooks are excellent and worth keeping an eye out for (though I guess the foraging ones wouldn't be so much use). This one has just come out, I found it on Saturday and got it as a reward for good behaviour!

  3. Interesting post. The best non-fiction book I have read for years was Better