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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars

on 23 September 2010
I wish I could award this book more than 5 stars because it is the work of genius. Mark Diacono has crafted a rare thing: a non-fiction book about food, growing and cooking that's a cracking page turner. I returned home yesterday evening after a 320-mile round trip to a day long seminar to find this long anticipated book had arrived. I opened the package, was instantly hooked and finished reading it in the early hours of this morning.

After writing the widely acclaimed Veg Patch: River Cottage Handbook No.4 last year, Diacono has turned his attention away from the standard grow your own fayre to his major love, the growing of the more unusual fruit and vegetables. His philosophy is simple: why waste so much time and effort on growing the usual (usually cheap to buy) suspects only to find they don't taste that much different to what's available at the shops? Instead we should turn our attention to the tastes and foods we savour the most and use these as our guides to drive out the list of things we really want to grow. If the list still contains potatoes or carrots then that's fine, but do make sure they're varieties that can't easily be found in the shops.

If flavours and what you like to eat are your guide, then Mark argues you'll also find that more of the unusual foods available for cultivation will then be added to your must-grow list. He's the ideal candidate to show us the possibilities this offers as this is exactly what he has been doing over the past few years at Otter Farm, his smallholding in Devon which is billed as Britain's first climate change farm. He's saved us hours of work by revealing nearly 40 of his best tried and tested more unusual crops.

Mark's a canny writer: in his introduction he guides us through the best way to come up with our own wishlist of what to grow. From lists of unbuyables and transformers (foods which turn the other ingredients into a sensational meal), through seasonal highlights, gambles, uncertainties and quick returns he maps out the possibilities for us. Each crop in then thoroughly introduced, bundled together under the headings of Tree Fruit, Nuts, Soft Fruit, Herbs & Spices, Beans & Greens, Leaves & Flowers and Buried Treasure. You'll already be familiar with some of them like almonds, asparagus and apricots, but I'm sure that only the most experimental amongst you will have tried oca or yacon.

This is another canny tack: by describing some of the more familiar options and how to grow them, the best varieties to choose etc. Mark builds up trust between himself and the reader which in turns gives you the confidence to not only to try to grow the more familiar foods which suit your garden's conditions, but to also try some or all of the other ones described. I have already radically altered the plans for my allotment next year.

The final masterstroke is to provide mouthwatering recipes for all of the crops featured. I can't wait to try Fesanjan (a rich chicken dish from Persia using the featured Carolina Allspice), Stir Fried Pork with Kai Lan (a perennial member of the brassica family) or Wineberry Trifle.

All of this is generously illustrated with photographs of both crops and recipes which will make you want to eat the page. The book is also well seasoned with warmth, wit and a treasure trove of anecdotes and experience.

My gardening AND foodie book of the year.
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on 5 October 2010
I found my nine year-old at the breakfast table this morning reading 'A Taste of the Unexpected'. Bearing in mind she is a great consumer of beautiful photography, I wasn't surprised, until I then watched her get, go to the back door, have a think, and then ask where in our tiny and as yet bare garden we could plant our very own pecan tree.

This is what this book does. It gets you. It explains how to make the most of a small space, or what do to do with a larger area, all without the slightest hint of patronising or assuming that we know when a medlar is ready to pick - I hadn't a clue. It's a book for grown-ups, but I saw this morning that if you write it right, you can hook the children too.

Mark Diacono's great idea is that perhaps we should give over to something more interesting those pots in which we'd half-heartedly grown carrots last year, only to see them for sale at 2p/lb down the road. Instead of carrots, grow sweet cecily: but first of all read all about it: fabulous facts and with a healthy dose of humour thrown in. I'm easily bored by the fare, both edible and literary, of self-conscious 'lifestyle cookery' writers, but it is evident from the first page of this book that Mark Diacono really really does, in real life, the things he says he does in his writing. He researches the plant, he shares his own experiments in growing, he suggests varities that will work for us in our small plot, frost pocket or raised bed, and he provides us with a sensible recipe or two with each fruit, vegetable, nut, herb, spice and flower. 'Make your garden unbuyable', he says. 'Food is at its finest when it slows down a little, when we give it a chance to be enjoyed for the journey as much as the result'

I stood with my daughter this morning and showed her where we could plant the quince. She referred to the helpful 'making a wishlist' and 'planning your space' sections: I referred her to the 'turning your wishlist into reality' section. We were incredibly late for school, but I felt the lesson we'd both shared in that time was going to spark something that will stay with us for a long, long time.
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on 24 May 2017
I found this in a charity shop and I could only wonder why anyone would give this book away! It's excellent, a must-read for anyone wanting to grow and eat something out of the ordinary.
It covers growing and eating unusual fruits and vegetables like quince, medlars, autumn olive, Carolina Allspice, Kai lan, and others. Whilst the list of unusual vegetables covered might not be so comprehensive as James Wong's "Homegrown Revolution" (a book I very much enjoyed) I find the detail in this book more comprehensive, the style more adult, and more convincing because it's based on years of real experience on his "Otter Farm". Diacono's book predates the Homegrown Revolution, and has several excellent photographs of each of the plants in question.
What I really like about this book is the personal touch - remarks about the author's experience in growing these things, the good and the potential issues. If he remarks about edibility but hasn't actually eaten it himself, he will say so, for example, day lily roots and leaves.
This book also acts as a part shopping list for me for when I get some land, though I already grow a number of the plants covered. Luckily it has a list of suppliers in the back.
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on 13 October 2010
For those not familiar with the world of River Cottage and its bountiful kitchen garden at Park Farm near Uplyme in Dorset, then meet Mark Diacono, its Head Gardener. He is also the owner of Otter Farm, Britain's only climate change farm, where the staple diet of the day is peaches, gojiberries and Egyptian walking onions. His new book "A Taste of the Unexpected" (published by Quadrille this month) is telling in that there is not even one photo of the man himself within its colourful, exhuberant pages. In the frenzied publishing world, where new and unlikely celebrity chefs and gardeners are thrust into the media spotlight ever fifteen minutes, the author has chosen to let his style of horticulture and philosphy of what he grows, tends, eats and how, take centre stage. With some help from Laura Hynd (photographer of much of Rose Prince's acclaimed work), behold one of the most beautiful and enticing crossover cookery-gardening books of the year has arrived. Unexpected and unchartered, this is the new taste of climate change.

Expect the unexpected from this book, approach it with an open mind, and an understanding that the need for low carbon food production, increased water scarcity, higher levels of global warming and the urgency of sustainability and self-sufficiency are no longer news flashes, they now form part of the diurnal collective consciousness.

Mark's philosophy is that growing common plants in your allotment or vegetable garden is not really life-enhancing, as potatoes, carrots, salads, onions and apples can really be bought at your local farmer's market or green grocer shop and they taste just as delicious.

"Life is too short to grow unremarkable food. It's simply not worth the time or effort and - happily- it's no more tricky to grow the utterly delicious than it is the entirely ordinary."

It all makes sense to the thinking cook, and I am very inspired. By making a wishlist, letting flavour be your guide, growing more unexpected plants that are at their peak when you eat them, not growing plants that are cheap to buy, and focussing on those plants that can quite literally transform a dish, Mark Diacono is taking garden plotting into new and exciting areas.

With climate change, we can think diet change: apricots, mulberries, pecans, wineberries, chilean guavas, Szechuan pepper, cardoons and mizuna. Each chapter gives you fundamental advice on the conditions each plant thrives on, the varieties available, the growing methods and the process of harvesting. There are beautifully photographed recipes that will make you as jealous as the day is long, your eyes lingering covetously on that curvy plate of "Scallops with sweet cicely" and those puffy, billowing "Chocolate souffles with apricot sauce". An Italian living in England, for so long I have wanted to make better use of my vegetable patch and this book has sent my imagination spinning: autumn olive jam, cream of Jerusalem onion soup, lamb and quince tagine, spectacular strawberry scones. My seed buying plans are revised and rethought.

Like Jane Grigson, Michael Pollan and Jecca McVicar before him, Mark is a natural writer, who writes confidently and authoritatively about a subject he is both passionate and technically skilled at. His work is on show every day, and it is the everyday meal that is the focus of his energies. A list of "Sources and Suppliers" is the first port of call after finishing this book. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was right: "...I believe that this is a book that will, if you let it, if you really use it, change how and what you grow, what you cook and how you eat, forever and for the better."
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on 18 January 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a very interesting book indeed.
Of course, I know that it's possible to grow fruit and vege in my own garden. But the utter convenience that the supermarket provides is hard to resist.
The Good Life is not regular viewing in my house. River Cottage is, however. Every spring I tell myself I'm going to plant potatoes, or put up the canes for the runner beans, or trim back the redcurrant bush. But alas, every year I don't bother. Such a waste really.

Enter "Mark Diacono: A Taste Of The Unexpected". Contained within it's pages are ideas and suggestions on how to grow and cook with some very strange vegetables, nuts, herbs, spices and flowers. Things that many people will not have come across before. Which is precisely the point of this book. The supermarket stocks all the usual fruits and vege, so why grow them at home? It's so labour intensive and results aren't guaranteed. So, read this book and take a step into the realm of the unexpected.

The book is printed on large glossy pages, the photographs are very attractive indeed, and the text is clear and easy to read.
Each ingredient, whether it be flower, nut or vegetable, is presented first in the form of a large colour photo showing it in it's raw 'on the vine' state. Then follows a few paragraphs of explanations regarding the plant's orgins, it's uses, it's history, etc.. Then there follows a short explanation of the different varieties, then a paragraph on growing tips. Finally you are treated to a recipie that utilizes the ingredient and another colour photo showing the finished dish.
There are 7 categories of plants, and approx 5 individual ingredients within each category. So, if you have the time and the patience, you can have 35 strange and little-known edible plants and herbs growing in your garden.
Some of these unusual plants and herbs include..
Medlars, Mulberries, Quinces, Pecans, Autumn Olives, Blue Honeysuckle, Chilean Guava, Lovage, Sweet Cicely, Cardoons, Mizuna, Oca, Yacon, ....and many more besides.

On the down-side though, the growing tips are rather sparce to say the least, but you have to keep in mind that this is not a dedicated gardening book. It's more of a beginners guide to unusual ingredients. It explains the basics very well, and whets your appetite for unusual cooking.

Speaking from my own experience, this book has inspired me to actually grow something in my garden this year. I've already bought some Sorrel and Salsify seeds as these are apparantly easy to grow, and I've made a space for some potatoes.. How things turn out remains to be seen however. Lol.

In my opinion this is a very nice coffee table book. It contains a lot of recipies, and there is a wealth of information contained within it's pages. It's not a book you'll read from cover to cover, but rather it's a sort of cookery inspiration reference book.

An ideal gift for anyone who has an interest in gardening or cookery. Expertly written and beautifully illustrated. Recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 21 December 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Written by River Cottage head gardener Mark Diacono, this is much more than the average guide to growing your own fruit and vegetables. Diacono asks why so many of us slave over veg patches full of carrots, onions and carrots - all crops which are easy to find and cheap to buy in the shops. Instead, he suggests seeking out the rare and unexpected - the kind of foods which are prohibitively expensive to buy or which don't endear themselves to supermarket buyers because they have a short shelf life, bruise easily or are difficult to harvest. Often it's these "forgotten" foods which offer the most in terms of taste and quality when you have the chance to enjoy them fresh - and few are difficult to grow, either.

The fruit Diacono suggests range from hot-weather delicacies - yes, you can grow a peach tree, at least in the south of the country - to old varieties such as quinces, medlars and mulberries. Then there are the alternatives to the norm, such as alpine strawberries or Siberian blue honeysuckle - its fruits are hardy down to minus 50C, so ideal for our "new" Arctic winters. He also unearths old favourites, like salsify or the easycare Jerusalem artichoke, and finds new foodstuffs in the flower garden - we're all used to edible nasturtiums, but did you know you could eat the fruit of the fuchsia? Best of all, Diacono spotlights startling new varieties (at least to the UK!) like the amazing Egyptian walking onion, which propagates itself like a spider plant, or the Chilean Guava. Every variety comes with growing hints and tips, adapted to different spaces so you can still experiment whether you have a big garden with space for trees and asparagus beds, or just a few containers and sunny windowsills where you can grow berries and microleaves. Finally, there are inventive recipes to help you with your harvest once you have it.

After an enjoyable evening leafing through this books, I've already overhauled my plans for next season!!!
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on 4 January 2011
The basic tenet of this book is a forehead-smackingly simple one; none of us, bar the extremely fortunate and well-to-do, are ever going to be entirely self sufficient and as such we may as well acknowledge that we are going to have to add to our own crops from elsewhere. As such, Mark Diacono easily reasons that instead of growing the usual veg patch staples(carrots, spuds, cabbage, spinach and the like) that are both prevalent and cheap in markets (either farmers or super) that we should, instead, turn our green fingers to the plants and trees that are expensive to buy (asparagus for example), difficult to source (Mulberries anyone?) or both (Jerusalem artichokes).
The simplictic brilliance of this notion could have led to some smug laurel-resting but Diacono has really taken this idea and run with it giving chapters on fruit trees, nuts, soft fruit, herbs and spices, beans and greens, leaves and flowers, and buried treasure (a homage to the ignored roots of the world). Each chapter contains between four and eight examples of its kind with growing advice and rather yummy looking recipes for each plant.
Fantastically detailed and wonderfully researched as it is, the book's major plus point is just how wonderfully readable it is. One could, and i did, genuinely enjoy this book as a cover to cover read.
Fabulous as the book is (and it is) could one really agree with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's front cover ascertion that 'This is a book that will change what you grow, cook and eat forever'? I don't know about forever but I am just about to do my seed and plant ordering for my (meagre-ish) veg patch and I'm not ordering potatoes, onions or spinach, cabbage, sprouts or peas. I will, however, plant cardoons, jerusalem artichokes, Japanese wineberries, borlotti beans and salsify among others.
Will it change my life? I doubt it, but my dinners will almost certainly taste better, and that's a damn good start.
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VINE VOICEon 3 April 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Mark Diacono may not be a household name, but as the head gardener at River cottage his work for TV's Hugh Fearnley Whittingstalls at River cottage in the South West may not have gone unnoticed.
This new book is a delight, it contains nearly 200 pages of inspirational text and pictures. Covering a variety of plants, not necessarily those commonly described in books on home food production. The author challenges the reader to grow what they like to eat and to consider different products- items that may not be readily available in the shops.
There is a brief section on planning- what will mature when, plants that will grow quickly, what is highly likely to grow, and what may be a bit of a gamble.
The book is then divided into sections:
Tree fruit- Apricots, medlars, mulberries, peaches and nectarines, and quinces.
Nuts-Almonds, sweet chestnuts, pecans, walnuts
Soft fruit-Alpine strawberries, autumn olive, blue honeysuckle, Chilean Guava, fuschia, gojiberries, rhubarb, and Japanese wineberry
Herbs and spices-Carolina all spice, chervil, lovage, sweet cicely, Szechuan pepper
Beans and greens-Globes artichokes, asparagus, borlotti beans, kai Lan, cardoons, romanesco
Leaves and flowers-day lilies, microleaves, mizuana, nasturtiums, sorell
Buried treasure-Egyptian walking onions, Jerusalem artichokes, oca, salsify, yacon

This book is probably not for beginners, but for some one who has some gardening and vegetable growing experience.
It's written in an educational style with plenty of the authors experience and personal thoughts included. There are some historic references and several recipes including photos for each plant to inspire you as to what you might do with the crop, apart from eating it raw. The description of asparagus growing made me smile, definately a male perspective!. There is helpful information about the ideal growing conditions, time to maturity, space required, and possible yields. The latter are hard to predict especially across the whole of the UK where the weather and conditions vary so widely. Good to know for example that mulberry rees are slow to start (perhaps I have not lost mine after our last hard winter). Many texts on asparagus tell you about not cutting for three years to let it establish, then cut all you like, but how many mention that at maturity, one crown may produce only 12 or so spears.
This is probably not a book for a beginner, some growing experience is helpful. You'd need a large garden to grow many of these plants especially the trees and some of the soft fruit. (RSPB in their survey's describe a large garden as one the size of a tennis court.) There is some comment on what might be grown in containers, this could be further enhanced in the next version. This is not a reference text, but give a little about important aspects of each plant. Further research may be necessary to find out about varieties which grow in your area, and pests and diseases. This is not a book for some one who wants instant results, don't expect to read the book in the morning, buy the plant in the afternoon and sit back and wait. For example in the south midlands I've not been able to find any of the named varieties of apricot in two large chain garden centres, nor two local nurseries. One stated their suppliers would expect to be sold out by now, come back in the autumn. I did however find suppliers on the internet- fine if you don't mind not choosing your plants personally.
I would love to see this book in an e version to be read on devices supporting full colour, I hope its in production. For now it will languish on the coffee table.
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VINE VOICEon 23 November 2010
I ordered this book thinking that it would be another one of those celebrity style glossy cookbooks. I don't have a problem with that, as there are usually a few useful recipes. But this: this book was totally unexpected and is absolutely brilliant.

The amazing thing about this book is that it doesn't just give a load of recipes with impossible to source ingredients. The opening line of the introduction says it all: "I wish we would stop growing potatoes, carrots and onions." Hang on, that is the staple of most allotments, surely. Then, on page 15: "Grow some unexpected flavours" and "Make your garden unbuyable", pointing out that because of the commercial requirements of large stores, much of the fruit and vegetables available will be sub-optimal, as they could have been picked before the sugars have a chance to develop, or past their prime due to storage or shipping. It goes on: "Don't grow food that is cheap to buy" (those potatoes again) or "expensive to buy". The idea of using seasonal produce is not new, but this author gives a list of five crops that CAN BE GROWN for each season.

A further factor that I liked about this book is the acknowledgment to British weather. I know that last summer, my aunt's garden had a fantastic crop of apricots, but suggestions are given as to how to use the not too ripe apricots in cooking. I did not realise that cooking brings the sweetness out more, for example. All this, and you are only at Page 31!

The layout of the book is straightforward. This is primarily a book about growing something out of the ordinary, which can take your cooking to the next level. As a result, the sections are divided into Tree Fruit, Nuts, Soft Fruit, Herbs and Spices, Beans & Greens, Leaves and Flowers (!!!), and Buried Treasure. Okay, so leaves does not include my favourite of new hawthorn leaves (yummy in sandwiches and salad, instead of rocket), but it does include microleaves e.g. the leaves off radish seedlings. The section on Buried Treasure includes things like the Egyptian Walking Onion, sometimes called the 'Tree Onion', which is a self-perpetuating onion, can be used a bit like chives or spring onions. I prefer cooking with spring onions sometimes, for the flavour, so this is definitely one that I will be trying.

Any book like this could suffer without a directory. Having whetted your appetite for all the things you could try, the author does include a decent directory, so it is good to see this essential has not been missed off. Equally useful is that this book does not assume that you have a huge garden, so it covers container growing, and gives suppliers of 'instant' raised beds.

Overall, this is a book totally deserving a five star rating. I am planning to give a copy to my mother, who is a keen gardener and cook. I can't wait to see the results.
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VINE VOICEon 27 October 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I like this book. For years I have been growing some unusual plants, I like the challenge, I guess. I already have almonds, quinces, carolina allspice, and lots of oriental salads and vegetable growing in my garden (beside the heritage tomatoes, squashes, herbs and the 'normal' foodstuff). I found the book a good source of information which will help me being more successful growing and also good information on how to use the fruits etc. For example I used the carolina allspice purely for decorative uses (there is of course the wonderful chocolatey smell of the flowers) but now I shall try the recipe for 'carolina allspice rice pudding'. And I'm encouraged to try growing some more plants.
But this book also encourages the use of plants found on our doorstep (our gardens, hedges and forests rather) like honeysuckle, nasturtiums, sorrel, nuts, etc.
As a book lover, I always delight in a well designed and made book. The photographs and the layout are excellent, making it easy to browse or to find specifics.
All round, a job well done.
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