Fer­ments, Desserts, Main Dishes, and More from Your Neigh­bor­hood and Be­yond

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight -

Sara Bir, Chelsea Green Pub­lish­ing (MAY) Soft­cover $29.95 (400pp) 978-1-60358-716-7

A Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Amer­ica de­gree armed Sara Bir with cook­ing ex­per­tise, but it’s her clever writ­ing and in­quis­i­tive, ex­per­i­men­tal mind that make The Fruit For­ager’s Com­pan­ion so ex­cit­ing. This hy­brid cook­book/plant guide/diy man­ual en­ter­tains as much as it in­forms.

Bir elo­quently dis­cusses why for­ag­ing is a sat­is­fy­ingly sus­tain­able, med­i­ta­tive way of col­lect­ing food, and of re­con­nect­ing to neigh­bors and to the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. She pro­vides re­as­sur­ing in­for­ma­tion for novice and ex­pe­ri­enced cooks alike, dis­pens­ing ad­vice on for­ag­ing eti­quette (Don’t be a “scrumper”—some­one who steals ap­ples from or­chards) and thor­oughly break­ing down meth­ods of har­vest­ing, stor­age, and preser­va­tion, from can­ning to fer­men­ta­tion.

Forty-one chap­ters on fruit species are packed with es­says, pho­to­graphs, recipes, and ideas for kitchen ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. There are also all-im­por­tant tips on cor­rectly iden­ti­fy­ing edi­ble fruits and their poi­sonous look-alikes. While the book pro­vides am­ple in­for­ma­tion on com­mon fruits, the pas­sages about un­usual fruits, like sumac and lo­quats, are in­valu­able. Bir is well-versed in food his­tory and food­ways, lead­ing to in­trigu­ing dis­cus­sions of old-fash­ioned preser­va­tion meth­ods and charm­ing recipe ideas from “wild cherry bounce” to pon­tack, which is a sort of el­der­berry Worcestershire sauce.

This com­pen­dium de­liv­ers a wealth of Bir’s sassy opin­ions and and ef­fer­ves­cent prose. Whether she is ex­pound­ing on the im­por­tance of life­long ex­plo­ration, the dan­gers of mono­cul­ture agribusi­ness, or de­scrib­ing ground cher­ries (“I de­light in their lacy lit­tle hulls, the ber­ries like golden pearls in a fil­i­gree set­ting”) and rose hips (“If rose hips were women, the ones you’d want would look like R. Crumb drew them”), her writ­ing ex­udes per­son­al­ity, wit, and in­tel­li­gence.

Bir is a learned, in­ven­tive guide whose sly hu­mor and play­ful voice will win many over to be­come ded­i­cated fruit scroungers and recipe ex­plor­ers. Pe­rus­ing this book will have you play­ing around with your food in no time, whether it’s ma­ho­nia or may­pops, may­haws or paw­paws.

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