I have recently acquired, through the magic of the “holiday season,” the magnificent, the inspiring, the delightfully different – Farmer John’s Cookbook:The Real Dirt on Vegetables. Perhaps you have seen the preceding documentary, The Real Dirt on Farmer John and you know what I am talking about. Perhaps you ought to add it to your Netflix queue right this very minute.
I’ll synopsize. John Peterson grew up on a farm in the Midwest. He inherited it. Chemicals made him sad. He ran away to Mexico a lot. The farm became an artist colony of sorts. The neighbors mistook him for a devil worshipper. He decided organic farming is where it’s at. He built up a community supported agriculture program on his farm. Angelic Organics was born. He wrote books, did the docu thing, became wildly popular.
So, the book. Before even cracking the cover, it is very cool for two reasons: One: they put it out in a lightweight trade paper edition. This gets my thumbsup because it is therefore not only more affordable, but requires less energy to produce & ship. Two: Farmer John himself is hanging out on the (well-designed) cover, holding a pitch fork and sporting a straw hat and orange feather boa. This makes me happy.
Inside, this is like no “cookbook” I have yet seen. There are pages dedicated to their philosophy, naturally. & slow food. & “biodynamism.” The recipe sections are separated by season and include storage and handling information about each vegetable, as well as culinary uses and “partners” – recommended flavor combinations (incidentally, if you are particularly interested in this, I also very strongly recommend the fabulous book by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, Culinary Artistry). The layout of these pages is somewhat confused, jumbled. It’s not about being a slick, coffee table cookbook like, say, Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook, which is more like foodporn than something you’d ever get near your grease-spattered range. Scattered all over these pages are little blurbs, quotes pulled from shareholders, cook’s notes, the Farm’s newsletter, harvest notes. They’re so weird – I just love them. Consider page 101 under the frequently-used heading “overheard” My new jar of pickles fell to the ground and shattered, sending glass shards and baby cucumberettes all around my feet. What this is doing in a cookbook, or why it is important enough to be included, I have no idea. There are little blurbs about the soil conditions in 1998 and how the harvest was going in 1996. The “overheard” blurbs are my favorite though. They are almost invariably ironic. Consider, from page 189: Shannon: The thing about not getting married is that you feel like you’ve missed a big event. Meagan: If I ever get married, I want a nice frying pan. Or, page 156: Male #1: Want to go with me to yoga this morning? Male #2: Yoga? I’d rather be a vegetarian than do yoga.
I notice that I have veered far off on a tangent (appropriately, perhaps, for this is a book almost certainly designed by a person with a deficit of attention). A cookbook sans good recipes is, of course, not much of a cookbook. Happily, Farmer John and crew deliver here as well. We made the Pungent Green Beans and Tomatoes with cumin, garlic, and ginger for Christmas dinner and they were fantastic. Vegetables are so easy to ignore, aren’t they? They just get steamed, or sauteed in butter ad nauseum. When we feel particularly inspired, we sitr-fry them. Well, no more. Not here, anyway. Here before me I have a cookbook that boasts an entire section for rutabegas. & kohlrabi.
Page 141: Mesclun Soufflé. 212: Cantaloupe and Tomato Salad with Mint. 275: Ginger Miso Soup with Daikon, Kale and Carrots. 297: Savory-Sweet Rutabega Pudding. Clearly, these people are just like me – a little nutty, and crazy-in-love with veggies.