To Eat: A Country Life
By Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd
Part memoir, part cookbook, part gardening book, To Eat: A Country Life is a delight. Fans of the authors’ previous books, among them A Year at North Hill: Four Seasons in a Vermont Garden and Our Life in Gardens, will find similar rewards in the latest offering in which educated musings on country life and growing tips are delivered in prose more akin to poetry and literature. Describing a homegrown lime, for instance, they write, “Whole worlds seem locked in an ovoid, greenish-yellow globe, waiting for release.” They, and their writing, are to gardening what M.F.K. Fisher was to food: a revelation.
Each chapter is dedicated to a different food type. Some chapters are pointedly joyful, such as the one on blueberries; some reflect intense work, such as their efforts for peas, or have an almost scientific feel, as with their instructions on how to achieve the white core of the Belgium endive. There’s personal lore, such as how they came to rescue Egyptian onions from a riverbank in Boston, and then the linking of their adventures with the greater world, as in the historical development of Boston’s Fenway Gardens, where they first transplanted the onions. Chapters include simple recipes that reflect the bounty of the harvest. An unusual one, chicken stew with unborn eggs, is not likely to be found elsewhere.
The sensibilities of the book are best summed up when they write, “If gardening has a purpose, it is to engender plenitude, a delicious human fantasy that want is banished. And not unlike the other arts—poetry, music, novels—gardening does try to achieve the real thing, the Eden of our imaginations, here and now.”
The book brings both laughter and tears. The afterword is particularly solemn. Wayne Winterrowd died in 2010 in the middle of writing the book, and it will be the last joint effort by the pair. Loss, in life and in the garden, is a bitter truth.