Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison – Book Review

I first noticed the Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening with Twelve Families from the Edible Plant Kingdom, with over 300 Deliciously Simple Recipes book on the library “new books” shelf and it immediately leaped into my hands.

I opened the book and while flipping through only a few pages, I knew this book was something special!

I should first mention that I am a big fan of the author, Deborah Madison. Long ago, I bought her famous “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” cookbooks and I’ve also borrowed the rest of her publications from the library.

I knew as soon as I saw her name on the binding, before I even opened the book, that “Vegetable Literacy” would be something that I needed to read.

The book itself is stunning. It’s a big heavy book, with well-crafted binding. It’s even got one of those fancy ribbon bookmarks (aah, the little things that thrill me!). The book cover is lovely photo of pretty garlic scapes, curling and knotting themselves into unique shapes.

The photographs inside the book are artistic, yet meaningful. What I dislike are photos that are added to a cookbook just for the sake of art, or the author’s ego.

Vegetable Literacy includes photos that describe each vegetable whether just pulled from the ground, flowering, or showcased in a recipe. There is no wasted space in this book.

One of my favorite photos is her “bolting” rainbow chard.

It’s truly an encyclopedia of edible plants!

The book is divided into twelve chapters, one for each plant “family”, including:

  1. carrot family,
  2. mint family,
  3. sunflower family,
  4. knotweed family,
  5. cabbage family,
  6. nightshade family,
  7. goosefoot & amaranth families,
  8. the (former) Lily family,
  9. cucurbit family,
  10. grass family,
  11. legume family
  12. morning glory family

Each chapter then presents specifics about each plant/vegetable in that particular family, including history, varieties, nutritional benefits, food compatibilities, cooking wisdom, and several intriguing recipes.

The index is extensive so it’s easy to find a recipe ingredient or where a plant is discussed, and I did refer to it when I wanted to read about a specific vegetable.

There are many personal anecdotes sprinkled throughout the book that clearly validate her longtime love and respect for vegetables that she personally grows, or finds at the market. One story that fascinated me was when she forgot garden carrots one fall, they rewarded her with beautiful flowers the next summer.

The only thing missing is detailed growing advice, which she does occasionally offer, but you’re probably better off with a gardening book for that.

She did inspire me to grow grow grow, and to try new things like keeping my carrots in the ground after frost or until January or February! Can you tell I am suddenly obsessed with carrots! ;)

This woman absolutely knows her stuff!

Some Bits of Plant Knowledge

Did you know that the Carrot family includes parley, fennel, and caraway among others. I had never heard of the herb angelica, which looks like parsley, but the flavor is unlike anything familiar.

Chia seeds are part of the mint family and are a compete protein (didn’t know that!) It is sometimes called the “running food” because just a handful sustained Aztec messengers during their extended running bouts.

Rhubarb grown in a greenhouse usually have rosy-colored stalks and they’re milder and more tender than stocks grown in the garden or in the field. A common mistake is assuming green rhubarb is not ripe, it’s is! Never eat the leaves, they are poisonous.

Buckwheat is also a compete protein, containing all eight amino acids. Buckwheat flour might need more liquid when using in batters.

The goosefoot and amaranth families include amaranth, beets, chard, lambs-quarters, quinoa, and spinach. For some reason, I thought chard was a crucifer vegetable like kale!

Here’s a recipe from the book I found at Epicurious: Doesn’t Peas with Baked Ricotta & Bread Crumbs sound scrumptious? And the recipe photo is divine!

I admit I didn’t have time to read every single word about every single plant, but I couldn’t believe how much I learned, and how much Deborah inspired me.

Read This Book!

Today, I am sadly returning Vegetable Literacy, admittedly a couple of days overdue, with the promise that I’m going to request a copy again very soon, because I didn’t have enough time with it.

If you find a copy of this book, it’s certainly meant to be cherished, and read over and over.

And that’s my Library Monday!

Disclaimer:
I love reading cookbooks, like some people love reading novels! I am inspired by recipes, and enjoy learning ideas from cookbooks, which means I’d rather put my own spin on a recipe than follow it exactly. Please keep in mind that my opinions might be completely different from the other home cooks.

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