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Cooking With Heirlooms

The Baker Creek Vegan CookbookAsked why he loves gardening, your friendly Planet Natural Blogger always tried to come up with something profound, poetic, and meaningful. That’s all well and good, but the get-to-it truth is simple: he likes to eat. The act of gardening has its material and spiritual rewards but taking the harvest in to the kitchen and breaking out the knives, the cooking oils, and the cast iron is where it’s at. Planting that first seed in the spring (or before) is aimed at one future reward: forking up something delicious.

That’s why we’ve always enjoyed those “kitchen-garden” category cookbooks, the ones that relate growing your own food to preparing it for the table. Jere and Emilee Gettle’s The Baker Creek Vegan Cookbook: Traditional Ways to Cook, Preserve, and Eat the Harvest is focused on cooking with heirlooms that are snipped, picked, or dug up from your own garden.

The Gettle’s are the masterminds behind the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, a growing organization that champions heirloom gardening from a down-home, old-timey perspective. Their previous book, The Heirloom Life Gardener, was a compendium of heirloom vegetables and how to grow them. The new book delivers delicious-sounding ways to serve up the harvest (or what’s been foraged from the natural landscape) to your friends and family.

Don’t let the word “vegan” in the title scare you off. In a sense, we’re all vegan to some degree, using neither meats, animals fats, eggs or dairy when we prepare many of our vegetable dishes. And when dishes call for such ingredients, the Gettles suggest commonly available substitutes, right down to no-fish fish paste. And of course, we non-vegan cooks can always substitute real butter for the butter substitutes when they’re called for.

Nor should the bib overall, gingham dress, clapboard front of the Gettles’ lifestyle make you think this is a book of grandma-era recipes. Jere Gettle has traveled extensively in Southeast Asia and many of the recipes — basamati rice with saffron and peas, vegetable tempura with Thai basil, Cambodian yellow cucumber salad with crispy shallots — reflect his experience and love of Asian cooking.

Other global influences are represented as well: Aloo Gobi with potatoes and cauliflower, Russian eggplant and Shiitake pockets, preserved Meyer Lemon-Cumin Moroccan Carrots, African peanut soup. And of course, there’s also the classic, country-American dishes that fit the Gettles’ nostalgic business model: sauerkraut, Grandma Nellie’s vegetable soup, heirloom apple pie.

Chapters on canning and preserving and kitchen staples for the vegan cook — upfront where they ‘ll do the most good — are worth the price of admission alone. And Jere’s introduction that outlines his garden and kitchen experience make a passionate and practical argument for the heirloom lifestyle.

But it’s the 125 some recipes that make this book most valuable.The introduction to each recipe makes suggestions as to which heirloom varieties are best suited for it. No doubt, this will likely suggest new things to try in your garden. You may not have grown okra before but the recipe for crispy oven-baked okra fries with Dukkah seasoning sounded so good it sent me to the seed catalogs to see if I could grow those flavorful little fruits in my zone. Best use for this intriguing collection? Do I need to tell you that the holidays are right around the corner?