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Review: The Modern Cook’s Year by Anna Jones

by | Sep 17, 2018

Food is undergoing intense scrutiny. One reason is we are becoming increasingly concerned about our health and what we put into our bodies. Besides the nasty toxins we’ve become aware of, there are increasing rates of heart disease, cancer and obesity from eating too much meat. Another reason is that food production is a big contributor to the gasses causing climate change. Not eating meat, or eating less meat, has become a political act. Not only does the growing of livestock use large amounts of fertilizer, fuel, pesticides, water and land, we now know the funny, not-so-funny, fact that cows fart a lot. USA cows, according to Environmental Working Group, are estimated to generate some 20 percent of overall USA methane emissions.

What does this mean for you and me?  Should we eat less meat? Or, no meat? Can you hunt your meat? Or is hunting too cruel? Should I bant? Should I become vegan? Is foraging responsible?  At times food the only relevant question feels like it should be “Why eat at all?”

Anna puts vegetables at the centre of the table

Enter Anna Jones. Seldom have my food nerves been calmed to such a great extent than when I read Anna’s gentle words on food. There are many vegetarian cookbooks about – many good ones too. But this is one of the few (that have crossed my path) that looks beautiful while gently persuading you that eating no meat is both good for you and delicious. Anna is the food columnist for The Pool and writes regularly for the Guardian. The latest of her three books is The Modern Cook’s Chef. Anna “believes in putting vegetables at the centre of the table” without alienating those who like a bit of flesh on their plates. The recipes are simultaneously delicious and healthy.

In her introduction to the book, she says “In the five years since I started writing my first book, the food landscape of how we eat has changed dramatically for the better. Vegetable-focused meals a few nights a week have become the norm for many and for that I am deeply grateful. We have damaged this planet, there been decades of misuse and eating mostly vegetables, and shopping and eating in season and locally are huge personal steps we can take in a better direction.”

Let your senses, and the fruits and vegetables you find at your market, lead you

Anna has themed the book around the seasons, but in her food world she has six and not four seasons. Besides Summer, Autumn and Winter, she has used the chapter headings: Start of the year, Herald of spring, and First Warm Days. “There are so many more subtleties to what’s growing than spring, summer, autumn and winter. It’s this rhythm, this relationship with nature, which I encourage you to foster,” she says. “The seasons are a useful tool but our eyes and taste buds should be our guide… let your senses, and the fruits and vegetables you find at your market, lead you.”

Scattered throughout the book, are double page spreads offering tips and advice which are easy to follow on how to make kombuchu, how to make friends with your freezer (“Who wants to be left with half an onion?”) make curry pastes, how to use flowers in your cooking and how to lay a celebratory table. The accompanying photographs for all the recipes are beautiful and impeccably styled.

Her recipes are a combination of straight-forward and more complicated. I don’t feel like I have to use all the ingredients (unless I’m baking) so if I don’t have a certain seed, I don’t use it. What I have enjoyed too, is that she’s not intimidating even when tackling something I would be nervous of trying. For this reason, I tried her tomato tarte tatin. I would have been way too nervous usually, but the introduction to the recipe was so inviting I couldn’t resist. “I don’t think I could be more fond of a recipe,” she says. Mine worked!

The Scientific American website says that for those who can’t give up meat fully, cutting back goes a long way toward helping the environment, as does choosing meat and dairy products from organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed animals. With Anna’s recipes which range from simple, multi-flavoured to uncooked will get you going on the right path towards more sustainable living.

The Modern Cook’s Year is published by 4th Estate. You can order from leading bookstores. (About R570)



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