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The Modern Peasant in ALL of us - A Book for City and Country Dwellers
on 12 June 2013
Few books have intrigued and inspired me as much as The Modern Peasant has; as a resident of the countryside, and not a city dweller, I was interested to see how JoJo Tulloh, the author of the book, would be able to convince me that city dwelling could be in the style of a peasant, with foraging, locally produced ingredients and free harvests to be had throughout the year. By the time I had read the first two chapters and I had perused the numerous recipes, I was convinced that even city dwellers can be cheese makers, yoghurt makers, foragers and they can indeed become a modern peasant.
The book opens with an evocative chapter, The Archetypal Modern Peasant - In Patience's Kitchen; in this opening chapter, JoJo explains that the book begins with an act of pilgrimage, to the kitchen of her culinary heroine, Patience Gray (1917-2005) who is most famous for her auto-biographical book, Honey from a Weedfollow, and that the culinary ethos of Patience, as well as a visit to see her farmhouse was the driving force behind JoJo's book. Having read the book from cover to cover over the space of just a few days, I decided to try one of JoJo's recipes, as part of my book review. The book is not so much a cookbook in the conventional sense, but more of an "urban handbook for country-style living" and JoJo writes with a verve and passion that immediately draws the reader into her city "peasant's" life.
There were many recipes that I bookmarked, but, it was the simple and homely Honey Flapjacks that I eventually made (and enjoyed), based on the fact that had some crystallised home-made lavender honey to use, and as JoJo herself suggests in the recipe introduction, it was an act of thrift that appealed to me. The book's contents is divided into the following chapters:
The Archetypal Modern Peasant: In Patience's Kitchen
Pickled, Preserved, Salted & Smoked
The Practical Peasant's Year
The Archetypal Modern Peasant: Recipes from Patience's Kitchen
The recipes are varied and include many basic techniques, such as making bread (sourdough) pastry, preserving and home-curing; recipes that inspired me to bookmark with a view to make are: Salt Cod with Peppers and Black Olives, Dandelion and Burdock Cordial, Dandelion and Bacon Salad with Hot Vinaigrette, Aubergine with Walnut Miso, A Spring Pizza of Spicy Sausage and Nettles and Potato and Porcini Gratin. As you would expect from a book that extols the virtues of foraging, there are lots of vegetarian recipes, as well as some tasty meat and fish ones too, but they are all achievable and use easy to source (or pick) ingredients. Expect to find ingredients such as nettles, walnuts, plums, blackberries, sorrel, mushrooms, dandelions as well as the usual allotment vegetables and locally reared pork and chicken.
JoJo takes time out to visit numerous local producers, and detailed accounts of her visits to bee-keepers, cheese makers, bakers and small vegetable producers are part of the charm of this book. JoJo makes her own cheese, and there recipes for Ricotta, Simple Goat's Cheese, Simple Lactic Cheese or Cow's Curd Cheese as well as Yoghurt in the "Fermented" chapter, and I am very keen to try making her goat's cheese and ricotta when I have time.
Although the book is clearly aimed towards urban living, I enjoyed the book immensely, and I suspect that it will appeal to country and city folk alike. Apart from the interesting content, I am always keen to investigate the "Bibliography" in a book such as this; and the old favourites are all there, as JoJo seeks inspiration and guidance from Eliza Acton, Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, Dorothy Hartley, Richard Olney and Alice Waters, which, for me, only adds to the weight and integrity of the book. The "Contact"s pages have useful links to suppliers and artisans, mainly in London, but with the odd foray into provincial counties, and California too! Although the book has no photos of illustrations, I did not miss them curiously enough; the tenor and passion of the text enthralled me from start to finish, and the underlying message of celebrating cities as new centres of food production, without the need to "up roots" and move to the country, made perfect sense and was well argued.
Conclusion & Rating:
JoJo seeks to bring a new culinary and gardening heart back to the city, and she achieves this in some style in The Modern Peasant. I would recommend it to any reader who lives in a city, town or village, as the writing is evocative and the recipes are innovative, a sort of "Urban Culinary Chic". This is a book that will make its way to bed with me many times, for late night reading, as well as accompany me in the kitchen as I follow the recipes throughout the year.