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Book Review: The Farm

Cover for Ian Knauer's The Farm

Ian Knauer’s The Farm: Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food adds another to the popular stack of cookbooks that are based on seasonal cooking. His story is a personal one that deeply connects him to the small farm that has been in his family for more than 200 years.

Reading through the book I found myself devoting more time to the personal anecdotes that he has sown between the recipes. The ones about his grandfather–who presented his daughter-in-law (the author’s mother) with “five squirrels and a bucket of weeds” as the makings of dinner–do an especially good job of illustrating how the connections with people and places can be wound together. Bite-by-bite memories of sandwiches shared  and preserve jars opened made me want to keep reading well beyond the sections of recipes that are in-season now.

Spring Risotto recipe from The Farm, slightly adapted because asparagus weren't yet in season.

Spring Risotto recipe from The Farm, slightly adapted because asparagus weren't yet in season.

Recipes are organised a little differently than other books in the seasonal cooking sub-genre (like Earth to Table). Instead of an equal serving for all four seasons more attention is given to spring and summer when the farm is at its most productive. Even if you only go as far as occasional jaunts to the farmers’ market you’ll appreciate this greater concentration of light and green versus brown and hearty, I think. Because the eponymous farm is in Pennsylvania the recipes are timed in a way that is generally compatible with what we get in Ontario.

Another spring recipe from The Farm, this one for broiled chicken.

Another spring recipe from The Farm, this one for broiled chicken.

I’ve had the book for the past few weeks so chose a handful of recipes from the early and mid-spring parts to test drive. Our dinner party guests really liked the Mustard-Garlic Chicken Paillards (they were flavourful and moist) and I found the recipe straightforward enough that I could also make the Spring Risotto. On another night we made (and mostly enjoyed) the Pasta with Arugula Carbonara which is an interesting take a on a recipe that is used treated with orthodoxy gloves.

Spaghetti with Arugula Carbonara.

Spaghetti with Arugula Carbonara.

I’m excited to dig into some of the larger projects for preserving (and maybe even game) later in the summer. This may be the guide and inspiration that I need to finally make my own hard apple cider.

In a glowing endorsement in the foreword, Ruth Reichl introduces Ian Knauer as a recipe tester for Gourmet magazine. The fact that he has that experience means that he knows better and makes me wish he was more exact with some of his recipes. Few by-weight measurements are given–even for flour when baking and there we should have a note to tell us which by-volume method is used–but, that’s an achingly common problem. Shortcuts like not being more specific than “preheat the grill” in one of the chicken recipes (charcoal or gas? for how long? how hot?); or cooking garlic for ten minutes over medium heat so that it makes the Arugula Carbonara sauce slightly acrid are even more aggravating.

Not all of its recipes are perfect (even when they’re laudably adventurous) but between the photos that balance ambiance and instruction nicely and touching stories The Farm stands out as one of the better examples of that sort of cookbook that serves just as well on bedside table as it does in the kitchen.

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