Vegetable Gardener’s Best Friend


Scheider One of the most useful gardening books I’ve ever bought is not a gardening book at all, but a particularly smart encyclopedia, Elizabeth Schneider’s Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini.

I bought it last year when I had a little assignment to write about the Boston garden of a woman from Bangladesh.  She told me that she planted snake gourd and fuzzy melons for her curries.  I had no concept of what these vegetables were, or even if I’d heard the names correctly.  My friend Martha, a brilliant cook and serious kitchen gardener, told me that Elizabeth Schneider is the place to go to find out.

Scheider’s book is wonderfully comprehensive, covering everything from tasty weeds to truffles.  It’s also a superlatively beautiful book that is worth every penny it costs.  And lifting the book far out of the ordinary is the quality of Schneider’s writing, which is really vivid and fun.  She calls celeriac, for example, one of my recent obsessions, "a pitted and whorled planet with snaggly rootlets."  I defy anybody to describe the visuals of that crop better.

This book is wonderful at seed-ordering time, because Schneider has actually cooked and evaluated the flavor of various varieties of vegetables. 

And if you’ve taken Schneider’s advice and planted a bunch of unfamiliar things, as I did, for their flavor, the book is equally invaluable at harvest time, when you pick your weird-looking blue pumpkin and say, "What the hell is THIS?"  A gorgeous photograph confirms that it is Jarrahdale, and the text informs you helpfully that the pumpkin may be ripe when the skin is still thin and shiny, and reminds you why you bothered…

The texture is very special: Steamed, the flesh melts to the smoothness of a filtered puree, a perfect base for delicate soup, custard, or pie, or to use in batter for bread or cookies.

Such informed opinions are reason alone to get this book, but Schneider gives another: terrific recipes for every vegetable.  Then, beyond the recipes is a "Pros Propose" section that sums up what some chefs like to do with the vegetable in question.  This is perfectly inspiring stuff for a seat-of-the-pants cook like me, who often finds that figuring out what to do with the mounds of produce she’s grown is a lot harder than growing it.


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