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Books that go from the garden to the kitchen

By Barbara Damrosch
Washington Post

For anyone who likes to garden, cook or simply eat well, here’s a shopping bag of books, easy to pick up or order through your local bookstore.

Because plant science is where good gardening begins, how about “Practical Botany for Gardeners,” by Geoff Hodge? There’s now an American edition of this basic British guide, recently published by the University of Chicago Press.

Toast yourself with a copy of “The Drunken Botanist,” by Amy Stewart (Algonquin). Though it does teach you how to make a bison grass cocktail, the book has more fascinating lore than recipes, assembled with the same wit you’ll find in Stewart’s blog entries on Gardenrant.com.

In food books, there’s a healthy trend toward using wholesome ingredients – if not from the garden, then at least from local farms – and employing traditional methods. Four stood out for me in this year’s crop. First is one I’ve heralded before: Jo Robinson’s “Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health” (Little, Brown), a guide to choosing the most nutritious foods, even down to specific vegetable and fruit varieties.

Michael Pollan’s “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation” (Penguin), like everything Pollan writes, is an absorbing and enlightening quest for knowledge about food. This time he takes to the kitchen, apprenticing himself to a series of master cooks. And one of those masters is Sandor Ellix Katz, author of the next book on my list, “The Art of Fermentation” (Chelsea Green), for which Pollan wrote the foreword.

Finally, there’s “The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making,” by Alana Chernila (Clarkson Potter), a very personal book written by a down-to-earth cook with a delicious sense of humor.

One more: I was given a copy of “Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life,” a book I might have imagined too sentimental or cute to buy, but Marta McDowell’s story of Potter, a roly-poly farmer-writer-painter, drew me in. The photo of her as a solemn girl of 19, holding her pet dormouse, is alone worth the price.

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