My interest in food and finding new ways to prepare it has long been grounded in my desire eat well without spending a lot of money.
Some of my favourite culinary discoveries have been times when I realize how easily I can make something myself that I’d previously been buying pre-prepared — and how often the homemade version tastes better and is less expensive than the store bought alternative. I’m already an avid canner of salsas, pickles and jams. I can turn cabbage into sauerkraut and milk into yogurt. So when Harbour Publishing mailed me a review copy of Carolyn Herriot’s The Zero-Mile Diet Cookbook, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of new ideas I found in its pages.
I first heard Carolyn Herriot’s name when I was a young WWOOFer (willing worker on organic farms) in Victoria, just out of high school. She’s well known on the island, particularly in the organic farming community. When I started my own backyard garden, I relied on her first book A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide to know what I should be planting at various times of the year. She’s since written The Zero-Mile Diet: A Year Round Guide to Growing Organic Food, which is designed to be used as a companion to her cookbook.
Herriot’s interest in cooking seems to come from a place of activism (to save the planet and not support the corporate giants who bottle your store-bought salad dressing), health concern and a pragmatic desire not to see her garden harvest go to waste. She spends the introductory pages of the book outlining her reasons for choosing an organic, vegetarian diet of food she mostly grows herself.
Don’t let the the name of the book fool you; the ingredients aren’t strictly zero-mile. There’s pineapple in her carrot cake and olives in her greek salad. The idea is to build recipes around seasonal ingredients and let you know what you could have grown yourself. The recipes are grouped by season and all the products that could have come from your garden are in bold. But if you don’t have a grapevine to pick fresh leaves for your dolmades, she also mentions that you can find them preserved in brine at most grocery stores.
There’s also informative sections on culinary herbs and — my personal favourite part of the book — food preservation methods, where I learned how to make sourdough starter and brew Kombucha tea and Keifir juice. There are also canning recipes and recommended dehydrating times for a range of fruits and vegetables, which I’m sure will come in handy when I’m making food for my backpacking trips next spring.
Overall this book is packed with useful stuff. Want to learn how to make the dandelion espresso they serve at Oso Negro, there’s a recipe for it in this book. Also, mulled spice wine (winter) and fresh fruit liqueurs (summer). Whether you grow your own food or support our local farmers who bring their harvest to market, this book offers plenty of great seasonal cooking ideas.