I received these sister books for Christmas this year and spent some pleasant hours reading through both of them.
“Tender” deals with the use of vegetables (Volume 1) and fruit (Volume 2) in the kitchen, some of which Nigel has grown in his own garden. They’re not really gardening books, though Nigel discusses his garden, but are,most definitely, cookery books with some very luscious recipes to inspire one to both grow food and to use that food in the kitchen. I’d say they’re “coffee table books” rather than “kitchen table books” in that they inspire and engage enthusiasm rather than being straight “How To” recipe books. They also seem too “posh” to risk making mucky in the kitchen. They are the sorts of books which provoke garden-longings and culinary adventures where the cook will find his or her own way based on the inspiration between the pages. I rarely follow recipes slavishly, being somewhat maverick in the kitchen, so this sort of approach suits my psyche. I will try some of the recipes, but I will probably adjust them to suit the produce I have available at the time. The recipes in these books strike me as lending themselves to this sort of cavalier treatment.
Volume 1 deals with a short introduction to Nigel Slater’s garden and an A to Z of vegetables, Volume 2 deals with an introduction to the fruit in his garden, and then an A to Z of fruit. Both books are weighty, two inch thick tomes and appear to cover the majority of fruit and vegetables which can be grown in the UK climate and which have been either home grown, purchased from farm shops, foraged, or from friends. Every entry seems to be based on Nigel’s own wisdom and this, to me, is important in such a book. I want that personal experience, not some reiterated conglomeration of information gleaned from the work of others or “common knowledge”.
Each A to Z entry has an introduction to the fruit or the vegetable, some remarks about their garden-worthiness, then some remarks about their use in the kitchen, and recipes.
The photographs leave me in two minds. Not all the recipes are illustrated, but those which are, are accompanied by well composed and luscious photographs. Those images alone are enough to inspire and make me want to cook the dishes. Something as simple as a photograph of elderflower fritters looks yummy. But some of the photographs seem to be self-indulgent “mood” photographs. And this mood seems gloomy, earthy, almost furtive and frankly under-exposed. Now, I ought to like this, tending towards the same myself, disliking over-brightened garish photos, but I’m not sure that I do. For example, p 24 Vol 1, there is a photo of pots of courgette plans, and that seems underexposed, lacking in sunshine and uninspiring. P 30, in the asparagus section, there is a photo of backlit sweet peas. The flowers are the main focus of this photograph, the rest of it fading to dark colours, so the photo is really “about” the sweet peas, an arty-f**ty style of photograph which bears no relation to the topic in hand. Sometimes the depth of field annoys me, because there are out-of-focus blurs to the front pulling my eye away from the subject, for example, a courgette flower p 266. I gather from the text that Nigel Slater is an earthy-mood sort of man, and so these photos do convey that emotion quite well, but some of the photos just didn’t inspire me. That’s just personal taste, not a matter of quality.
Another bugbear I have with the photos is that there is a thumbnail at the start of each subject – a great idea, except that the thumbnail often bears no relation to the fruit or vegetable in question. For example, the thumbnail for “Peppers” is nasturtium flowers. The colour tones quite well with the facing rather good full page photo of peppers in varying degrees of ripeness, but what’s wrong with having a photo of peppers growing on the plant itself as a thumbnail? Another example is a viola thumbnail for spinach, yet for Jerusalem artichoke, the thumbnail is the Jerusalem artichoke flower, and for onions, there’s an onion flower. There’s a rose thumbnail for plums and for redcurrants, yet quince blossom for quince flowers. It seems to lack logic, could be misleading, and it’s almost as if Mr Slater lacked a suitable photo for some thumbnails and shoved any old photo in instead, so long as it looked good.
I found the peculiar font for “ct” rather distracting.
The other major niggle is the indices. There is an index at the end of each volume, but the one at the end of volume one is scant and confusing. I used it to try to look up artichoke soup, but failed to find it. However, artichoke soup was listed in the Volume 2 (Fruit volume) index, which looks like the main index to me. I feel the main index would have been better divided between each volume appropriately, perhaps losing a couple of the irrelevant mood photos, such as the sweet peas, the dahlia and one or two of the frozen brassica photos, to accommodate them, if pages were short.
None of the niggles were enough to detract from the overall enjoyment and I’m delighted to have received them for Xmas.