Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cook the Books: Garden Spells and Bachelors Buttons

With the fruits of our garden labors taking up an increasing amount of real estate on my kitchen counters, it is the perfect time to let you know about an evocative novel, Garden Spells, the debut offering by bestselling author Sarah Addison Allen (NY: Bantam Books, 2007). This is the current book selection for the bimonthly foodie book club, Cook the Books.

Cook the Books features books from all kinds of genres, from chef memoirs to fiction featuring cooking or foodcentric themes, and participants offer up posts that discuss our current selection and their culinary creations inspired by their reading. I will be coordinating the roundup of submissions at the Cook the Books blog after tomorrow's deadline and then our guest judge, Jenna of the wonderfully entertaining blog, Literature and a Lens, will pick a winner.

Garden Spells
is a lyrical blend of Southern Gothic and magical realism set in a small North Carolina town, where the Waverley clan has always had a certain reputation for odd powers. Elderly cousin Evanelle is driven to give people gifts which they later find out that they need and want, from Strawberry Pop-Tarts to bed linens, condoms and mango cutters. Caterer and night gardener Claire cooks up magical foods that have various properties, like the snapdragon casserole used to ward off the unwanted admiration of her hunky new neighbor. It would be a plot spoiler to let y'all know about the power that her wayward sister Sydney discovers that she possesses late in the book, but suffice it to say that all of the Waverley women have unusual talents. Even the family apple tree in the backyard has an ominous power: the ability to fling apples around, which, if eaten, will give the bearer a vision of the biggest event in his or her life. And bigger is not always better.

There were so many delicate and intriguing things that Claire cooks up in this book: lavender bread, crystallized pansies, violet white cake, lemon-verbena sorbet, and honeysuckle wine. Herbs and garden vegetables feature prominently in her sensual descriptions and it was a treat to read the excerpts from the Waverley kitchen journal at the rear of this book. Chive Blossoms will ensure you will win an argument and are an antidote for hurt feelings, and Nasturtiums are noted as promoting appetite in men (for sex or food, or both?) and for making women secretive. Very entertaining.

With a swath of long-blooming Bachelors Buttons in my vegetable patch, grown just for attracting pollinating insects (and because they're so easy to grow and are self-sowing), I was delighted to learn from this book that the petals are edible and, according to this book,
"Bachelor's buttons make people see sharper, helpful for finding thing like misplaced keys and hidden agendas"

Well, sez I, I could certainly use help in both these departments, so I plucked a handful of petals, and used them to garnish a salad gleaned right out of the Crispy summer garden: mixed lettuces, radishes soaked in rice vinegar and some sliced asparagus stalks. They really looked lovely as a garnish and I am making a note to remind myself to use them on top of my next Fourth of July dessert. They are so deeply blue.

I'll be posting the roundup of all the Garden Spells submissions over at the Cook the Books blog after tomorrow's deadline and encourage you to drop by and see all the different, creative interpretations of this dreamy novel that we've all cooked up.

Our August/September Cook the Books selection is A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg, a collection of essays and recipes, compiled from her popular blog Orangette. Anyone is welcome to join in the fun for this and all future rounds of CTB by reading the selected book, and then blogging up your book commentary and a dish inspired from its pages.

Off to deliver some garden produce to my friends. Now, where'd I put those keys?


Heather S-G said...

Just beautiful...and I think I could use a big plate of that salad, as well ;)

Deb in Hawaii said...

Great review and gorgeous salad--so delicate and pretty. I need to grow more flowers. ;-)

BTW: I will be coming in hot right on the deadline tomorrow afternoon(ish). I meant to do it earlier but it has been a challenging month and a particularly challenging week this last week. ;-(

Alicia Foodycat said...

Oh is THAT what bachelor's buttons look like? I was wondering! It looks so beautiful!

Claudia said...

Now I want to grow some Bachelor's Buttons! They make your salad like a painting, too pretty to eat. Soaking your radishes in rice vinegar is a nice tip too.

Danid said...

Those bachelor buttons are beautiful! I had no idea they were so gorgeous, or tasty! I definitely want to try growing those myself next year. I also loved your thoughts on the book. I'm really excited to be a part of CTB.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I've never seen Bachelor's Buttons. They are gorgeous, and the salad looks so colorful and just so pretty.

Maria @ A Platter of Figs

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing another edible!! I didn't realize they were! It's always great to have another color choice! Your salad looks gorgeous...I could use some of that right about now!

Elizabeth said...

That's genius that you could use something already growing in your backyard; like Clare you don't have to look far!

Simona Carini said...

I wondered what those flowers looked like: thanks for answering my question :) I agree: they make a lovely garnish on your salad.

Eliotseats said...

I must have missed that tidbit in the book. I had no idea bachelor buttons were edible. I have some growing in a pot by the front door and will see NOW if I can harvest some for tonight's salad. Thanks and great post.