Review by Lisa Margreet Payne
I’m writing this review of The Produce Companion while my Rhubarb and Lemon Compote is waiting to be mixed with spiced raisins and Bramley Apples to become a crumble. Actually it’s a bit of a hybrid of recipes, as I’m also using some Preserved Ginger that I made from a recipe in this book. That’s always a good sign of a recipe book: one that is actually used!
The aim of The Produce Companion is to help you to reduce a glut of fruit or vegetables and avoid food waste. It teaches you the varied methods of preserving, whether this is by making jam, pickles or relishes. It’s also a guide to growing your own fruit and vegetables in a kitchen garden, although some crops, such as herbs, can be grown in pots on balconies or windowsills.
The book is divided into two parts. The “Garden” section is broken down into “Orchard”, “Vegetable Patch” and “Herb Garden”. It provides information on growing, harvesting and storing your produce. The “Recipe” section includes over 100 recipes for jams, chutneys, pickles and relishes, which you would expect from a book on preserving. There are also recipes for syrups and sorbets for the sweet toothed. What is more interesting are the recipes for drinks, sherbets and granitas. On the savoury side the recipes also cover spice pastes, pestos, flavoured butters and salts. There is even a section on making your own vinegar using a “starter” (or “mother”) from vinegar that you may have in the cupboard already, and leftover wine. Finally, there are two sections with recipes for Pickling and Preserving a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Personally, I found the growing section to be rather lacking in detail. Although the variety of crops it covers is impressive, you would need to refer to other sources for detailed growing information unless you were familiar with them, as this book only provides an overview. However, what I found very useful is the information regarding storing the vegetables. This is helpful whether you have grown your own, bought it from the supermarket, farmers market, or had an organic vegetable box delivered.
You can have a glut arising from any of these situations. There are the courgette plants that won’t stop giving, the box of windfall apples left out on the pavement (which is where I got my Bramley apples from), the reduced price organic raspberries in the supermarket (I have been known to elbow other people out of the way in my haste to reach these bargains), and the ridiculous amount of ginger received in your organic green juicing box each week. (Yes okay, I might be drawing from my own personal experience on this one.)
Using the aforementioned green juice ginger glut, I tested both the recipes as suggested in The Produce Companion for preserving ginger. One was for Pickled Ginger, and the other was for Preserved Ginger, a sweet syrupy version (this is what went in to my crumble with my windfall apples, spiced raisins and rhubarb). Both recipes worked out well and transformed my glut into one sweet and one savoury version of the ginger root.
The Produce Companion has a good mix of recipes, combining ones that will feel familiar to readers and therefore give them the confidence to try some of the more unusual ones. Many of the items would also make really nice handmade gifts.
The book itself is well designed, with beautiful photography and illustrations. It’s definitely the kind of book that a gardener and cook would like to have on their shelf as a reference to return to many times. And indeed, you don’t even need to be a gardener to have a glut of fruit or vegetables as I have illustrated. It’s also a useful resource for anybody who is interested in the art of preserving, or if you just like to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables and would like to know how to prolong their shelf life!
The Produce Companion: From balconies to backyards, the complete guide to growing, pickling and preserving
Written by Meredith Kirton and Mandy Sinclair
Published by Hardie Grant Books