Harvest: Unexpected Projects Using 47 Extraordinary Garden Plants, by Stefani Bittner & Alethea Harampolis
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/10 Speed Press.]
This is a really enjoyable book to read. Do you like beautiful, colorful photos of a range of garden plants, some of which are deeply obscure, as well as recipes of quirky products made of those garden plants that show themselves to be immensely useful in a variety of ways? Odds are you will like this book. Do you like organic gardening  and enjoy reading books about how to best enjoy the diversity of God’s creation on one’s own property? Can you read a book and not be offended by frequent references to flowers in one’s butter, herbal teas, and large amounts of hipster alcoholic beverages? If so, you will definitely enjoy this book. There is little question that the authors are hipsters of a particular kind, yet as they turn their evident social snobbery into items that one cannot buy simply because they are too odd to be mass marketed, they turn that snobbery into an area that I can appreciate as a deeply odd person myself. In reading this book I found myself wondering, what would that taste like, and willing to try. In my book, that is a success.
The book is organized in a sensible enough fashion. The authors take 47 extraordinary garden plants and divide them based on their growing season into three periods, early, mid, and late, which roughly correspond to whenever it becomes spring, summer, or fall in an area, regardless of the actual timing. Each of the garden plants includes at least one recipe for a project of some kind and some amazing photography. The graphical design of this book is amazing, and goes well above what would need to happen, popping with color, showing a great deal of contrast, and even throwing in attention to surrounding details like children or wood and stone or raindrops on leaves, or in one of the most simple pieces, calendula blooms in olive oil to create an essential oil for sore muscles. The garden plants themselves are mostly obscure, but the products included in this book are often ones I would be very willing at least to try out, and they include the following: a variety of herb salads made from salad burnet, amaranth, and shungiku, a poppy seed dressing, blooming butter with bachelor’s buttons, elderflower-infused honey, oregano-infused vinegar, scented geranium sugar, anise hyssop iced tea, custom herb blends with thyme, quince paste, pineapple guava simple syrup, viola-infused water, mashua tuber mash, and the aforementioned calendula-infused essential oil. Does liking these items make me a hipster? Honestly, it doesn’t matter, if a book can be this quirky and enthusiastic.
This book taps into the side of odd but lovely organic gardening that I most appreciate, and that is the sheer loveliness and creativity of what can be made. Is it odd to put flowers in your butter and lemongrass in your salt scrub or geranium in your sugar or make beautiful floral arrangements out of artichokes? I would consider all of these things to be odd, certainly, but they are beautiful and may very well also be enjoyable to taste or beautiful for other people to look at as well. They are certainly creative and fairly simple and straightforward. What makes them odd is that no one would think to do them until they were told by others that such and such a bloom or leaf or seed was edible and useful, or were shown pictures to see just how beautiful they looked when arranged correctly. Someone has to be the sort of brave person to experiment or to pass along obscure knowledge about plants gained over the generations, and there are more people who are willing to test out those claims and demonstrate that knowledge to be true, and to enjoy the results of what other people have spent a great deal of time looking into. If there is one aspect of the authors’ approach I find most congenial it is the fact that they are totally fine with being odd and eccentric, because it springs from a love of creation and what it has to offer those who are willing to plant and harvest for themselves rather than to simply buy it from a store. There is something creditable and laudable in that do-it-yourself approach to personal projects related to food and beauty items, even where not all items are of interest personally to me.
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