I have a collection of winter vegetable cookbooks on my shelf and look forward to opening them on these quiet days leading to the winter solstice when there is time to ponder this season and the vegetables the winter kitchen garden offers. Out in the December garden hardy brassicas and greens, leeks and roots are ready to harvest but will also hold there for the coming winter months, gaining sweetness with each frost. While I have some favorite methods for cooking all of them, there’s always pleasure in rereading recipes and reflections by other cooks who love this season and its food as much as I do.
While all of these books share the purpose of encouraging cooks to explore winter vegetables, each has its own personality and reasons for this focus, reflecting both the time when it was written and the enthusiasms of the writer. One writes from her Pacific Northwest homestead, another from her roots in California and France while another brings her knowledge and experience of eastern European cuisines, another her discovery of Asian root vegetables. All write in detail about each root and hardy green, sharing history, anecdotes, nutrition, selection and storage and sometimes even planting and harvesting information. And all offer recipes and often stories behind them, leaving me inspired to cook and reminding me why I welcome the coming of this season.
Lane Morgan is a Bellingham, Washington writer as well as a cook and year-round gardener, and her book celebrates the winter vegetables and fruit we are fortunate to have in our climate, whether from our own gardens or from local markets and farmers markets. In the preface to the twentieth anniversary edition of her book she writes: “what hasn’t changed is my appreciation for local food and sustainable practices, and my conviction that eating with the seasons is best for our health, our palate and our planet.” (p. xi) The opening “Produce List” section profiling vegetables and fruit ranging from Apples to Turnips is a must-read for anyone interested in planting and cooking from a winter garden here in the Pacific Northwest. The recipes, arranged from soups through salads, main dishes, side dishes, sauces and desserts and baked goods, are wonderfully vegetable-focused and accompanied by charming stories linking them to cuisines, chefs and friends. http://nwlocalfoods.blogspot.com/
The Stones are New York City cookbook authors who write in their introduction that “It’s time that the lowly (pun intended) root vegetables at last rise up to take their rightful places within the reaches of gastronomy.” (p. ix) They’ve organized their book alphabetically by vegetable, Beets to Yams, and introduce each vegetable with its origin and history, varieties and availability, selection and storage tips, basic preparation and cooking information and very specific nutritional information. The half dozen or so recipes that accompany each vegetable entry are creative and easy to follow. This book is a great resource.
Darra Goldstein is a professor of Russian at Williams College and has written about Russian literature, culture, art, and cuisine. She is also the editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture and has written several cookbooks. The Winter Vegetarian joins her love of winter and winter food with her knowledge of Russia and Northern Europe. Of all the cookbooks I list here, Goldstein’s is the most satisfying to read. She introduces the book with an essay describing her love of winter and winter food, ponders the winter pantry in another essay, and delights me, a rutabaga-lover, with an essay titled “Rutabaga Stories” in her chapter on Vegetables. There’s even an essay on famous vegetarian Leo Tolstoy, “Tolstoy’s Table.” The many recipes that accompany these essays are also inspiring and perfect for this season. http://www.darragoldstein.com/
Georgeanne Brennan divides her time between Northern California and Provence. Her New American Vegetable Cookbook (1985), Potager: Fresh Garden Cooking in the French Style (1992), and The Food and Flavors of Haute Provence (1997) reflect her passion for both places and are long-time favorites of mine both for their recipes and for Brennan’s wonderful writing. Down to Earth: Great Recipes for Root Vegetables (1996), is another favorite. The opening section profiles root vegetables from beets to yuca including along the way less familiar roots like lotus, taro and water chestnut. The recipes reflect both the Mediterranean and California and while the focus is on winter meals there are also delicious recipes for preparing roots in other seasons. http://www.georgeannebrennan.com/
Andrea Chesman is a Vermont cookbook author whose climate doesn’t let her pick winter vegetables from her garden but whose root cellar and local markets keep her supplied with hardy greens, onions, tubers, roots, winter squashes and beans throughout the winter. Her opening Introduction to Winter Vegetables profiles these vegetables and offers availability, storage, purchase, preparation information and cooking ideas. The heart of the book is her extensive and varied collection of recipes for soups, salads, side and main dishes. Her enthusiastic commentary introducing each section and recipe makes this book a really fun one to browse or read straight through and the clear format and instructions make cooking and eating winter vegetables very satisfying. http://andreachesman.com/
Diane Morgan is a Portland, Oregon cookbook author and her beautiful new book is a recent addition to my cookbook shelf. While she includes many of the familiar roots—beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga and turnips—she also introduces many less familiar North American as well as Asian roots such as salsify and scorzonera, galangal and malanga. The book is organized alphabetically by root so a read through brings the mind-expanding experience of moving from celery root to crosne, sweet potato to taro, yam to yuca. The gorgeous photographs and thorough profiles of both the old standards and exciting new entries as well as the internationally inspired recipes make me want to locate seeds for new roots that might grow here as well as find a good Asian market. I’ll be pouring over this book during the winter weeks ahead. http://dianemorgan.wpengine.com/