If you’ve ever dreamt of stepping off the career treadmill and moving to a farm somewhere, you’ll find Christine Stevens’ book “Harvest. Recipes from an Organic Farm” (Jacana) inspiring. Because that’s exactly what she did seven years ago, to become an organic farmer and wine-maker in the Western Cape.
“Harvest” is more than just a recipe book, though. It has a lovely personal feel, not just because of the way Christine writes about each of her recipes, but because it’s illustrated with beautiful photographs of the farm and the family. It all looks and sounds idyllic.
“The truth is that it might look romantic from the outside, but farming for real is an incredible challenge on every level,” writes Christine. But the book leaves you in no doubt that however steep the learning curve may have been, she loves her life on the farm.
With no supermarket down the road, she’s had to learn to be pretty self-sufficient, growing her own organic vegetables, herbs and fruit. Many of her recipes are inspired by what’s ready to eat in the garden. So, for instance, there’s a recipe for a french bean, pea and broad bean salad – because “these are the first of the spring vegetables ready to harvest”. All the recipes are simple and relatively quick and easy to prepare (because there’s not a lot of time to faff around in the kitchen when you’ve a farm to run).
I love the chapter names, they’re not you’re usual starters, poultry, meat, desserts etc, they’re more a description of what you might feel like eating: in the chapter called “Crunch” there’s simple salads and light meals straight from the garden. Here she writes: “Everyone seems to be cooking with organic ingredients these days, which is wonderful, but I think we still forget what it’s like to just pick something off the bush or vine, or dig it out of the soil, give it a quick wash and pop it in our mouths.” She’s absolutely right.
In the “Nourish” chapter you’ll find recipes for cooked garden vegetables. They include things like sage mash, ratatouille and farm vegetable soup. There’s nothing new, but it’s unpretentious food that just looks delicious.
The “Fill” chapter is about keeping two growing, “permanently hungry” boys fed. These are quick, healthy meals that are tried and tested family favourites.
Then there’s the comfort food section … cakes, biscuits, bread etc. Christine bakes her own bread, claiming: “Once you get into a rhythm, baking a fresh loaf every day becomes part of daily life and, of course, it makes the whole house smell wonderful.” I’ll take her word for it.
The “Feast” section has very enticing beef, pork, chicken and lamb recipes for long family lunches. The chapter on desserts, entitled “Indulgence”, is full of fruity, creamy, crumbly things. And then the final chapter, “Hoard”, contains recipes for preserving the summer crop for the less bountiful winter months in marmalade, jellies, pesto, sauces and such.
I love this book because it reminds you that eating is a sensory and social experience and that growing food can be a true pleasure – which is easy to forget when you live in a city. If this book doesn’t inspire you to start growing your own veggies, nothing will.
THE SECOND BOOK, “Love Green Food. Cooking and Eating with Consciousness” by Larissa Green (XLIBRIS) is also about organic food. Larissa Green is a trained cordon bleu chef who lives in Cape Town. She says, “Love Green Food” arose from a journey of personal healing and “a drive to ensure that we have a clean and healthy planet to call our home and to leave behind for our children”. Fine sentiments, indeed.
What really struck me is her attitude to cooking. She writes: “It’s all above LOVE! This is the most important ingredient. This is love for yourself, for others, for your environment, for nature and for your home.”
For Larissa, cooking is a spiritual experience. “The experience of creating something really nutritious for the body can transform a person, as the experience also feeds the soul,” she writes.
She describes organic food as “nice, clean food” that’s “almost like a medicine”. But sourcing organic food hasn’t always been easy, she writes that she’s had to put her culinary skills to the test and be creative in order to prepare a variety of dishes with minimal ingredients.
The main emphasis of the book is “to provide easy and great recipes to make all your own food without feeling like you have had to limit yourself in any way”.
I love the homemade flavour section. It contains recipes for things like pesto, sweet chilli sauce, various chutneys, preseved lemons and tomatoes, mayonnaise and thai curry paste. Follow these recipes and you won’t need to get your flavours from a packet or bottle again.
There’s a section on cereal grains, including some lesser-known ones like millet, quinoa, amaranth and spelt. And some bread recipes, including rotis and gluten-free bread and pastry.
The book also contains a nice assortment of breakfast foods, including fruit salads, porridges, muffins, pancakes, eggs and quiches, a few soup recipes and some interesting ways to cook veggies, including crispy coated vegetables and vegetable fritters which might tempt fussy youngsters to eat brocolli and baby marrow.
I really liked the look of the salty fruit salad that involves melons and feta cheese, and a spinach, chickpea, summer fruit and goat’s cheese salad, which I’m sure could look quite spectacular. Also notable is a recipe for chai tea, a drink I have loved since a trip to Zanzibar many years ago.
My only “issue” with the book is one that I have with many health food recipe books and that’s the need for “specialist” ingredients like chickpea flour, coconut oil, spelt flour and Himalayan salt. It means I have to drive for kilometres to a health food shop to find them. But, I supposed you can always improvise with ingedients that are easier to obtain.
Other handy features in the book are a chart showing which vegetables are in season when, and a few recipes for organic and non-chemical household cleaners.
To learn more about Larissa’s cooking and eating with consciousness philosophy or to order the book, you can go to the LoveGreenFood website. Where you’ll also find a very handy South African shopping directory.
(Thanks to Maureen for the books)