Bring on the broccoli
Claire Mulligan celebrates locavore Jane Reid's Freshly Picked as a call to action.
December 03rd, 2018
Along the way we learn pyramid builders ate garlic for stamina and Louis XIV started the fad for snacking on fresh-shelled peas.
Freshly Picked: A Locavore’s Love Affair with BC’s Bounty
by Jane Reid
Halfmoon Bay: Caitlin Books, 2018
$26.00 / 9781987915792
Reviewed by Claire Mulligan
Now that I have savoured the lustrous pages of Jane Reid’s warm-hearted and witty book Freshly Picked, A Locavore’s Love Affair with BC’s Bounty, I am going to tromp to every farmer’s market and roadside stall and apologize to all those vegetables and fruits I have taken for granted and misunderstood.
To radishes, the sprinters of the vegetable world. To apples, those rebels who reinvent themselves with each new seed. To mushrooms who, weirdly, share more DNA with animals than plants. To corn, whose co-dependent sex life (on us) takes a page to delineate.
I don’t think it was a mistake that I kept pronouncing the word locavore as lovacore. Well, it was a mistake, but given the love and wisdom that infuses this book, it’s an understandable one.
Still, this book is not just a celebration, it is a call to action and Reid’s chapter titles — “Give Peas a Chance,” “Bring on the Broccoli” — illuminate this. Although Freshly Picked centres on the bounty in our corner of world, it is also expansive and worldly, ranging around the globe and through history, offering perfectly-portioned anecdotes with which to delight your friends around a table (I’m picturing a long, rustic one set in an orchard).
The poor minions of Tiberius pushed cucumbers around in wheelbarrows to catch the sun.
Louis XIV started the fad for snacking on fresh-shelled peas.
The pyramid builders ate garlic for stamina.
Reid also weaves in delightful, personal anecdotes. In France, a young Jane falls head over heels for her first perfectly crisped beans. In B.C., Jane tracks down a garlic maestro through Craigslist and discovers a garage stocked with heirloom garlic: Russian Reds, Persian Star, etc.
Such names! So many. Who knew garlic was so diverse? Or cabbages? You have been missing out, Freshly Picked reminds you. Look around. Look further. Look past the stadium-sized grocery stores to the local farms, the piles of corn for sale from the back of trucks.
At the end of each chapter, after you have appreciated the history and idiosyncrasies of, say, the strawberry, the cucumber, Jane gives, not a “recipe,” as such, but a scene, a story (the recipe for stew actually riffs off an O’Henry story). Freshly Picked encourages a joy of cooking that has nothing to do with The Joy of Cooking, that massive instructional manual that could be shelved aside the Joy of Tile Scrubbing.
Ease is emphasized. Cut tomatoes “the size of a stamp.” Snip parsley “until you are bored.” Set asparagus on “your prettiest plate.” These are not the rigid lists of your white-aproned home economics class where you had to level off that ¾ teaspoon of extra-mild curry with a knife, squint-eyeing every grain like a scientist developing a life-saving vaccine.
“Serve with love,” is Jane’s mantra as she takes us on journeys to Pemberton and the Okanagan, to the ghost farms of Bella Coola and Salt Spring, as she reminds us that food is about reciprocity and respect, about dirt and the outdoors, about sustainability and community, as she kindly suggests we radically rethink our relationship with the growing world.
And how can you not rethink when you behold the marvellous photographs?! Nearly every page gives us one or two. Some, like the baroque, painterly image of yellow squash on a black background, are so striking it is tempting to cut them out and frame them for your kitchen — not that I did, Jane, I promise!
Freshly Picked persuades you that it is not a big deal to eat responsibly, to support your local farm economy; in fact, it is easier than the way you purchase and eat now. You have to eat every day; why not make it an act of generosity?
While we’re on that topic of generosity, I can’t think of a better holiday gift for that foodie in your life, that gardener, and especially that jaded produce-avoider than Freshly Picked. Wrap it in your prettiest napkin and stuff it under the locally-sourced Christmas tree.
Claire Mulligan is a freelance editor, writing mentor, screenwriter, and creative writing teacher at the University of Victoria and Camosun College. She is the author of The Reckoning of Boston Jim (Brindle and Glass, 2007; Giller Prize & Ethel Wilson award nominee) and The Dark (Doubleday Canada, 2013; Canadian Authors award nominee and The Globe and Mail Top Five Summer Books, 2013). Her multiple award-winning short fiction has appeared in Writers Magazine, The Hourglass, The Tulane Review, Grain, and the Antigonish Review, amongst others. Her first short film, The Still Life of Annika Myers, which is all about food and our relationship to food, is currently in production. See www. luminousedits.org for more information, or contact Claire Mulligan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Claire now lives in lovely Victoria, B.C.
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