The River Cottage Cookbook More than just a collection of Hugh's recipes, this book is a witty, practical guide to the River Cottage lifestyle from Channel 4's iconoclastic back-to-basics chef. Includes tips on how best to buy organic produce and, for the more adventurous, advice on rearing your own meat, growing your own vegetables, and tapping into the free wild harvest. Full description
Ordinarily the word "lifestyle" is more likely to be applied to slender magazine articles puffing lofts full of Eames furniture rather than books about smallholdings in Dorset. The River Cottage Cookbook, however, is a hefty 450 pages of pure, gumbooted rural lifestyle; and one could not wish it shorter. Cook, broadcaster and food-writer-at-large Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has been ensconced at River Cottage for a number of years, cultivating his vegetable garden, raising chickens, pigs and even cattle for his table and taking occasional potshots at the local wildlife. His achievements have been chronicled on television; now they appear between hard covers.
Although it calls itself a cookbook and does contain a large number of fine recipes, the book's scope is much broader. Really, this is more like one of those "Enquire Within on Everything" volumes 19th-century settlers used to take to the outback with them, full of instructions for mixing whitewash, worming dogs and making a bag pudding. Starting with vegetables, proceeding to livestock and fish (River Cottage does indeed have a river and is only five miles from the sea) and concluding with the wild food, floral and faunal, of the hedgerow, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall explains how he grows, gathers, kills and cooks his own food.
There is a lot of information here, and a lot of hard reality, too: he is very clear and forthright about the place of death in this kind of life. But then this is a very clear and forthright book overall, a very engaging and really quite inspirational manual of how to live the country life so many of us dream about. It's well-illustrated, too, with Simon Wheeler's fine photographs of Hugh at work chasing chickens, skinning eels, carrying piglets and so on. The food in the River Cottage kitchen looks wonderful, too, though the photo of a cod-head glaring resentfully from under a beehive of parsley in a stock pot carries many more resonances than it is possible to summarise here. --Robin Davidson
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