Zilker Neighborhood Gardens

Commentary by a National Wildlife Steward who helps Zilker neighbors establish native plant gardens

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Book Review: Tender by Nigel Slater

My sister sent me a gift for my birthday – a hard-bound first US edition of Tender: A cook and his vegetable patch by Nigel Slater. While spending time with my sister over spring break, I talked excessively about Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma that I had just read. We talked a lot about corn, which if you’ve read Omnivore’s Dilemma, you’ll understand. We discussed organic farming, community gardens, community supported agriculture (CSA), and our own attempts at growing vegetables.

Which leads to my birthday gift: Tender.

In the first 26 pages of the book, Slater (who is a journalist, specifically a British food writer) tells of his move into a London house on December 31, 1999 where he “toasted the echoey old house and its long, thin, and abandoned garden” (p. 7). I enjoyed reading and seeing pictures of how he transformed an overgrown grassy yard where he could have kicked a ball around into a three-sectioned area including a stone terrace on which stands his outdoor dining table, a small vegetable patch, and a gated section of shrubs, along with lots of pots. His vegetable garden is separated into 6 sections, each outlined with hedges. He regrets his use of hedges, but you’ll have to read to find out why. One set of pictures I really loved was the rooftop view of his garden in each season: spring, summer, fall and winter.

The next 600 pages provide commentary, profile, and recipes for vegetables including:

  • asparagus
  • beets
  • broccoli and sprouting greens
  • brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • cauliflower
  • celery
  • celery root
  • chard
  • The Chinese greens
  • eggplants
  • fava beans
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • kale and cavolo nero
  • leeks
  • onions
  • parsnips
  • peas
  • peppers
  • pole beans
  • potatoes
  • pumpkin and other winter squashes
  • rutabaga
  • salad leaves
  • spinach
  • tomatoes
  • zucchini and other summer squashes
  • a few other good things

While Slater has not necessarily grown all these vegetables, such as asparagus, he smartly describes the requirements of doing so if the reader were so inclined. A random turn to a page brings me to the Jerusalem artichoke. He includes recipes for “A salad of raw artichokes,” “A warm salad of artichokes and bacon,” “Roast Artichokes,” “A panfry with duck fat and bay,” “A new artichoke soup,” “A casserole of artichokes and pork for deepest winter” etc. along with some amazingly hunger-inducing pictures throughout.

Slater’s book is not a vegetarian cookbook. He states:

While still enjoying my crackling pork roasts and grilled lamb, my baked mackerel and crab salad, I have become more interested than ever in the effect of a diet higher in “greens” than it is in meat – both in terms of my own well-being and, more recently, those implications that go beyond me and those for whom I cook….I would simply say that I feel much better for a diet that is predominantly vegetable based. (p. 4)

I think I will love this book, as my husband and I just started getting ‘local boxes’ of produce from Greenling.com, and I’m sure many of you may have shares in local CSAs. But the quandary comes when you receive, say, rutabaga or Jerusalem artichoke or some other vege that you’ve never prepared or perhaps even heard of before! We look forward to consulting the recipes in this book as we eat through our vegetable delights each week. And it just might inspire us to expand our petite vegetable garden or to get some creative vegetable seeds.

One last note is that since this is the US version, the measurements in recipes are US-friendly with ounces, pounds, tablespoons listed in addition to grams and liters.

Happy reading! But more important, happy gardening, cooking, and eating!

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