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Reference Book Review: Katz, P. (2002). Parsley, Peppers, Potatoes & Peas: A Cook's Companion for Handling, Using & Storing A Garden's Bounty. Gramercy Books: ISBN 0881791423
By Robin Rousu
November 9, 2002

Canning comfrey? Drying dandelions? Freezing figs? Preserving peaches? If so, you might want to turn to the latest edition of Pat Katz's reference for those fortunate people who cannot only grow a bounty of foodstuffs, but also have the time to prepare and preserve them.

More than 10 years of writing the Countryside Journal's food column and decades of personal experience in the garden and the kitchen have developed Katz into a capable conveyor of everything your grandmother knew and a little more. Her writing is simple and approachable, giving equal weight to both technical food safety issues and practical down-home advice.

The content of Katz's first book, 1988's The Craft of the Country Cook from A to Z, was reduced over medium heat to half the original volume in 1997 when Hartley & Marks published The Kitchen Gardener's Companion: An A-Z Encyclopedia for Using the Food That You Grow, which has been directly converted by Gramercy into the 2002 edition.

The book purports to contain "all the basics for the kitchen gardener, including canning, pickling, freezing and cooking, as well as a smattering of classic and unique recipes". Over 70 types of fruit and vegetables have their own entries. There are general sections on items including nuts and herbs and informative essays on nine major preparation methods. The featured edibles include all the apple and carrot mainstays of North American temperate gardens, many rarer garden products such as kohlrabi and quince, and some downright puzzlers, like seaweed. Everything I grow on my farm in northwest Washington was included, but gardeners from warmer climates might be disappointed with the omission of citrus fruits, avocados, and other fun-in-the-sun produce. In addition to the food entries, there are informative essays on nine major preparation methods.

All of the content is organized alphabetically, which works well for the fruits and vegetables, but is a questionable format for the essays on broader topics such as canning, which is sandwiched uncomfortably between cabbage and carrots. The table of contents is handy for someone new to the book, if a trifle redundant for the seasoned user due to the alphabetical content. The index of recipes and food ideas is a useful addition for the cook who does not want to have to browse the entire apple section to find the apple beer instructions. The subject index is inconsistent; looking up "cold storage" leads you to the main essay on this preservation method, as well as the apples and cabbage entries, but does not mention the four paragraphs on cold storage in the potato entry. Cross-references within the text, however, are delightfully plentiful.

The length of entries for individual fruits and vegetables ranges from 2970 words on the common and useful "Corn, Dry", to 495 words for "Swiss Chard". "Canning" merits 6930 words while "Steam Cooking" is covered in 1485 words. Contents of entries vary widely depending on the nature of the crop. Usually included is vague information on different varieties, as well as details on handling, canning, freezing, drying, and a smattering of recipes and ideas for use. I found the essays on preparation methods to be very practical overviews for both novice and experienced gardener cooks. The canning section, for example, goes into detail on canning methods, equipment, temperatures, times, concerns such as botulism, and has a brief list of references.

The print is as large as a cucumber seed, the lines are well spaced, and font variations are used judiciously, which makes for easy reading of the main text. The large subject title on the upper outside edge of each page directly above the page number facilitates quick location of each entry. Illustrations are minimal: Two small line drawings of leaves are repeated throughout the work for decoration and 10 black and white explanatory diagrams are used. Unfortunately, each essay has a considerable portion of its content presented in a continuous series of sidebars throughout its section and occasionally starting in the previous section and continuing into the following section. This is highly distracting, makes for a much less attractive page, creates unnecessary difficulties while trying to find specific information, and forces the reader to follow two streams of text at once, which is frustrating enough to make you want to crawl into a root cellar and hide.

This book contains a plentitude of practical information, sensibly broaching the divide between gardening and cooking references, but is redundant if either of Katz's previous titles is owned. Despite the flaws in presentation and organization, this is a valuable source of information for both the urban pea patch crowd and people with 27 acres and a lot of time on their hands.

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