About ten years ago, shortly after Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma was published, I started really learning about food. I had always eaten a varied and healthy diet (except that summer in university when I ate poutine and chocolate milk almost every day for lunch). I knew where meat came from and how it got onto my plate (but didn’t really want to know the details, despite growing up in a family that hunted). I cooked most of my food being mindful of healthy eating and a balanced diet on a budget.
But The Omnivore’s Dilemma brought food security and food sourcing into mainstream conversation. It made us understand words like sustainability and factory farming. It certainly opened my eyes, and it’s a book I’ve read several times and will likely read again. Except I loaned it out and don’t remember where…sigh.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma started me on my way to my own little food renaissance, and has affected how I garden, shop, and cook ever since. Looking for books about healthy eating? You’ll find that here, and more, but you’ll also find stories and love of food, not just cookbooks.
The following books formed the way I approach food, the way I cook, and when my house/yard permit, the way I garden.
Square Foot Gardening
(now available in a second edition and called “All New Square Foot Gardening)
This book helped me produce a tremendous amount of food in a very small space. Because we move on average every two years, and usually in the summer, it also means I only have every other year to actually get my hands in the dirt. The process begins in the fall when I arrive at my new house as I source gardening materials and work to improve the soil in my yard. I have done this a lot of times and I’m tired. Imagine how productive my garden would be if I was still cultivating the one from 2010!
At times I have also joined a CSA, a community supported agriculture program if one exists in my community. This involves buying a share from a farmer, and investing in the small farm’s yield. Sometimes you get a lot, and sometimes not as much, but it supports farmers and small farms. One time I got a bottle of maple syrup because that was a winter/spring product of that farm. Other times I have been able to add fresh eggs and meat to my box. Invest in your community and find a CSA near you!
Once I got to know the farmers well enough that I forewarned them that if I missed my regular pickup it was because I was in labour. They kindly dropped it on my porch for me, and I remember a knock on my door and a shout of “vegetables!” a half hour postpartum with my youngest child!
But this also meant that sometimes I had a LOT of one particular type of produce. My small children eat a lot of things, but they perhaps don’t have the same tolerance for eating meal after meal involving beets or chard as I do. And turnips. So many turnips. This brings me to:
Serving Up The Harvest
Organized by season and by crop, this marvellous book gave me so many new ideas for what to do with that beautiful produce that I was growing, buying at markets, and receiving in my CSA. Buying in season meant it was super fresh and often inexpensive, but it also meant there was a lot of it.
Serving Up The Harvest has useful tips for growing, storing, and cooking. I’m especially fond of Dark Chocolate Zucchini Bundt Cake, and it has become a family favourite. The book’s pages are splattered, and that’s the page it falls open to. Worth it to buy this book for that recipe alone!
Put ‘Em Up
I turned to this book – beautifully photographed and illustrated – during the summer of 2010 when I was hugely pregnant and nesting. It was also a hot, humid summer, and really a terrible time to decide that every day was canning day.
My canning equipment never went away, and most days I would produce a new batch of something, my counters covered with jars, and my husband taking out stock in the Mason Jar company. Some bad math and on sale produce also made me turn to this book to experiment.
It turns out that when your toddler is screaming in the grocery store, and you don’t notice that the scale is in kilograms instead of pounds, you wind up with a lot of peaches. That’s how I discovered Ginger Peach Jam (page 226). A 10 lb bag of beets for $2 (how could I NOT buy that!) meant we discovered what beet relish and a few different options for pickled beets tasted like! Pro tip: beets do not belong in chili. Sale pears? Try some chutney! It’s a delicious accompaniment to chicken tikka masala.
Enchanted Broccoli Forest
The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest is a follow up to the original Moosewood Cookbook, and has a wide range of salads, soups, entrées, and desserts. It’s also how I learned to bake bread from scratch. I don’t do it very often (that’s what the bread machine is for) but if I have the time and a good soup recipe on standby, then I once in a while enjoy making tasty homemade bread. The handwritten pages, and hand-drawn illustrations are fun, charming, and whimsical, and tell the story of bread.
Bean by Bean
Bean by Bean is an encyclopedia of beans, and is one I bought because it was beautiful to look at, but also full of stories, and isn’t strictly vegetarian. In my efforts to eat less meat, and cook more beans from dry (something that my Instant Pot makes quick and easy!) I have turned to this book for all things beans. It also contains yummy dishes to accompany beans, and our family’s favourite cornbread comes from this book.
I like my kids to know about food too, and don’t have much patience or interest in cookbooks supposedly for kids. I haven’t yet seen one I like. Give kids real tools, work with them, teach them as you go, and let them experiment. They’ll find their way.
Some of my favourite kids’ books about healthy eating and food are April Pulley Sayres’ fabulous poem chants. Rah Rah Radishes is the best of the bunch, but Go, Go Grapes and Let’s Go Nuts are also fun and make a nice gift pack for kids. I can still hear my kids, their little toddler fists pumping the air, shouting “veggies ROCK!”
There are so many cookbooks and food books and books about healthy eating out there, but these are some favourites, and ones I own and reference often. They aren’t new, but they’re lovely, and full of wonderful reading. Find them online, or at your local library, and discover your own joy of food.