Book Review: The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

A review on the back of the book reads: “Labeling High a chef is like calling the Pope a churchgoer.” (Dan Barber, Chef/Owner of Blue Hill).  Having waded through this massive volume, I agree.  (This book is as thick as my copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy collection.  Granted, there’s a lot of photographs, but still, it’s 447 pages!)

Intended as a practical guide to controlling the source of your food and only incidentally a cookbook.  (“This book is not meant to end up stopping doors, pressing flowers, or being used as a step ladder to reach the highest shelf.  It is a manual, not a tome.”)  The author’s goals are similar to mine and Matts’ but more focused.  Whereas we are shooting to get as close as possible to all-around self-sufficiency, Hugh’s goal in life, as I gathered it, is to get as close as he can to total food self-sufficiency.  He obsesses over a varied vegetable garden; raises livestock such as chickens, cows, and pigs; fishes both sea and river for fish, eels, and crustaceans; and gathers meats, greens, mushrooms, fruits, and nuts from the wild. 

Hugh’s day job is a writer and television presenter. He rented River Cottage in Dorset and then managed to swing a deal with Channel 4 to shoot a series there.  Apparently I am pretty late to discover Hugh.  Since this book was written he has since moved from the original River Cottage to Park Farm, which for reasons of continuity, is called River Cottage HQ

The book is split into 4 parts: garden, livestock, fish, and hedgerow.  Before the recipes in each section you are treated to several chapters of exposition, explanation, information, advice, and anecdotes aplenty to show you how and why to procure whatever is tastiest in that particular section.  (Not excluding photographs, the lead-up to “garden” is 73 pages.  There’s a lot of info in this book besides oven settings.)

Even the recipes are a good read.  take, for instance, this snippet from the recipe for tomato ketchup:  “Use it as you would any commercial tomato ketchup . . . but always with enormous self-satisfaction bordering on smugness.”

I’ll try a few recipes and let you know what we think.  They look great!

— Amanda

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