A Forager’s Treasury
By Johanna Knox
Allen & Unwin, $36.95
I’m late in writing this review – I’ve had the book for some weeks now and I was supposed to post a review last week, but it’s taken me a long time to gather my thoughts about it because, quite simply, I’m completely overwhelmed by how much I love this book and I couldn’t write the review sooner because it would have just been GUSH GUSH RAVE RAVE MAD WOMAN SPLUTTERINGS…
I can’t promise much better today, but I will try! This book is a must for anyone interested in foraging (obviously), but also herbal healing, Rongoa, bushcraft, nutrition, ecological principles of sustainability and conservation, folk wisdom and so much more! The book is rich in it’s content, it’s so much more than a mere guidebook, the author is a terrific writer and her sparkling prose and dry wit infuse the text with life. She is funny, self-effacing, humble and also extremely intelligent – it’s a beguiling combination.
The book is thoroughly researched and wonderfully New Zealand-specific (although there is plenty in here for overseas readers, also!) The writer brings her own direct experiences (and experiments!) into the text, which makes giving foraging a go seem so much more appealing. She is honest about her failures, her predilections and her biases, too. The book is not impartial and is all the richer for it! All through the text are small boxes of ‘extra for experts’ style gems of historical information and interesting stories relating to the text.
As well as all the botanical and culinary details necessary for foraging, Johanna goes beyond the basics to provide a feast of recipe ideas, she covers cooking, tisanes, syrups, oils, freezing, pickling and so much more. The most special thing about the book for me, though, is that Johanna’s enthusiasm for plants and foraging makes it seem exciting, vital and fun. I have no doubt that the book will turn many foraging-newbies in to keen plant spotters and pickers. I also love the way Johanna captures the romantic aspect of foraging, the sheer joy of knowing a wild plant’s name and what it’s good for – the final section of the book ‘Wild Ways’ celebrates the foraging ‘lifestyle’ with ideas for bodycare, medicine, picnics and a look at the language of flowers. In case you are worried the recipes will all be for green weedy salads, fear not – there are recipes for all kinds of desserts, cakes, rich sauces – the gourmand will be satisfied as much as the health nut.
My favourite recipe (again, appealing to the romantic part of me) is for ‘Lady Lindsay’s Feral Tea Sandwiches’ (I love the word ‘feral’ – it makes me want to dance around a blazing bonfire on a winter’s night!). I have copied Johanna’s description of these sandwiches for your entertainment:
“Tea sandwiches are dainty…..I named this collection of ideas for Joan, Lady Lindsay who is best known for her haunting novel ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ …an evocative and primal exploration of Antipodean settler unease and awe for the land. With her highly privileged background, creative eccentricity and fascination for the land’s dangers and mysteries, I think Joan Lindsay would have liked these sandwiches. I fancy they are like her, with their refined exteriors and wild insides.”
There follows a long recipe full of endless possibilities for a truly wild picnic!
My only criticism of the book is the lack of an index, which makes looking up plants tricky if you aren’t sure of their parent plant family….but I anticipate somewhere in the next dozen reprints of this book, sure to become a bible of plant lore in New Zealand, the publishers will eventually put an index in.
I have already bought copies of this book for my father (keen bushman who likes to extend his bush-craft skills) and friends who love to garden and forage. It makes a wonderful gift for the green-minded, but first, buy a copy for yourself – even if you are new to foraging you are sure to catch the bug, and you will be amazed at what you can ‘forage’ even in your own backyard! (The chickweed and dandelion in the photographs came from my backyard, I chopped both finely and added to a pasta sauce.)
Thank you, Johanna for your gift of this very special book.
Don’t forget there is a website which accompanies the book HERE. I will share a foraging recipe which Johanna sent me with you sometime soon (I just need to cook it first so I can report on it’s flavour!)