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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 End





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.
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on 31 May 2013
It's awfully easy, living in the city, to get divorced from the reality of food. The onward march of convenience is everywhere; to ground oneself in real food takes conscious effort, and a continual battle against the thieves of time of modern life.

There is, however, great satisfaction to be had from some proper, hands on creativity. For instance, my most recent loaf - made using Jojo basic sourdough technique - is, I believe, my best effort yet. For a few minutes work, and a few hours waiting (which wasn't too onerous, as I was asleep at the time), I've ended up with something a lot nicer that the anonymous Chorleywood bread that is the easiest stuff to get from the supermarket.

There are, of course, many other things we can make at home, apart from the standard breakfast/lunch/supper. And for those who wish to get more hands on with their foods, Jojo Tulloch has written The Modern Peasant. Inspired by Patience Gray's Honey from a Weed, this is a great book for all the frustrated urban cheese, yogurt, bread, preserves lovers. Not so much a recipe book - though there are plenty of recipes - it's more a paen to getting back in touch with our food, even for those of us who live in cities. It's very well written; I actually read it cover to cover, which is unheard of for me for a cook book, but this is encouraged by Jojo's chatty chapters where she discusses each technique in detail, before giving us the recipes.

All the recipes are achievable, which I really liked to see. It's not a book calling for some sort of quasi-Good Life (and there we go - my good intentions of not mentioning that program fall by the wayside, but as it's directly relevant, my failure is only to be expected) digging up of the front garden and importing goats. What I was amused by, however, was the number of professionals she goes and sees; people who are making excellent products as a commercial operation - the very opposite to the peasant way of life. However, on reading this book, I'm quite happy to leave cheese to the cheesmakers, and just enjoy the results myself.

As I said, I'm already sold on Jojo's sourdough technique which includes twenty minutes rest before the salt is added, to allow autolysis to take place. This is one book that has earned its place on the shelf: I'm quite sure it won't be long before I pull it down and start experimenting. Ricotta sounds quite easy.
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on 8 January 2014
The Modern Peasant Jojo writes beautifully - a truly easy read with points made delightfully simply. For a cookery book that might sound odd but putting recipes in context makes this more than just another cookery book. On only one days read i will be making my own yoghurt!
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on 20 October 2015
wonderful book full of fascinating facts and stories.
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on 8 August 2013
From making bread, to yoghurt, ginger beer, bee-keeping and more...well written, humourous and educational book. Perfect read for sunny days or as a reference book for your kitchen.
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on 12 September 2013
Not quite what i expected but it will make a nice gift for the right person. Not exactly a cook book
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on 7 July 2014
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