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Gift Guide: Best Books (and More) for Botanically Minded Cooks and Mixologists

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Gift Guide: Best Books (and More) for Botanically Minded Cooks and Mixologists

December 6, 2017

What does one give as a gift to the botanically minded shaker of floral cocktails, and to the kitchen garden cook? We are here to help. Here is a list that is bound to please. These are highly subjective choices: I own these cookbooks, know some of the authors, grow these plants, have drunk the hooch, and have eaten the spices. My life is about growing, foraging, cooking and infusing.  And I like to sip a cocktail while I think about what to do next. Maybe you do, too.

So here are my personal recommendations for the gardeners, cooks, and imbibers you love (or for yourself—send this list to Santa).

N.B.: A giveaway of all of these items is being offered to one very lucky winner on my blog, 66 Square Feet. When you have read all about them, and fallen in love, hurry over there to participate.

Toast and Jam

Above: A hardcover copy of Toast and Jam: Modern Recipes for Rustic Baked Goods and Sweet and Savory Spreads is \$\20.40 at Amazon and also is available from Roost Books for \$30. Photograph by Ngoc Minh Ngo courtesy of Roost Books.
Above: Above: A hardcover copy of Toast and Jam: Modern Recipes for Rustic Baked Goods and Sweet and Savory Spreads is $20.40 at Amazon and also is available from Roost Books for $30. Photograph by Ngoc Minh Ngo courtesy of Roost Books.
Sarah Owens’ first book, Sourdough, won her a James Beard Award. Her newly released Toast and Jam  is subtitled Modern Recipes for Rustic Baked Goods and Sweet and Savory Spreads. The first part of he book—Toast—is all about the foundation: recipes for breads, crackers, cakes, and scones. The second part —Jam—includes well, jam, as well as sweet spreads and nut butters, savory spreads and condiments, ferments, pickles and cured ingredients, and toppings for tartines. Recipes are sprinkled liberally with interesting botanicals like dandelions, sumac, elderflower, rose petals and violets. This baker loves plants. The book is strikingly illustrated by Ngoc Minh Ngo’s dazzling photographs and will make you very, very hungry.

Above: If winter seems long, think about next spring: Violet jam is an esoteric and gorgeous toast topping.

Toast and Jam is filled with fresh ideas and classic themes, and will reinvigorate a cook’s approach to this fundamental pairing.

The New American Herbal

You know it is a classic when you keep returning to its pages. The New American Herbal, by Stephen Orr, the editor-in-chief of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, belongs on every herb lover&#8\2\17;s shelf; \$\2\2 at Amazon.
Above: You know it is a classic when you keep returning to its pages. The New American Herbal, by Stephen Orr, the editor-in-chief of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, belongs on every herb lover’s shelf; $22 at Amazon.

This is a hefty book that feels stuffed with interesting things. And it is. Illustrated generously by Stephen Orr’s own evocative photographs, the pages are brimming with herbal knowledge and lore. There are recipes for savories and for sweets, bespoke spice mixes, and drinks. There are oils and extractions, techniques and tutorials. There are garden projects. There are collections such as Native American Herbs, Chinese Herbs, Tropical Herbs, and Controversial Herbs (!). Best of all, there is an A-Z listing— a cornucopia of aromatic and useful plants, some very rarely written about. The New American Herbal is instructive and it is inspiring. I love it.

The New Wildcrafted Cuisine

 The New Wildcrafted Cuisine is \$\29.99 at Amazon.
Above: The New Wildcrafted Cuisine is $29.99 at Amazon.

For foragers and cooks curious about their botanical surroundings, as well as about unfamiliar techniques, The New Wildcrafted Cuisine (Chelsea Green, 2016) is one of the most exciting books to have hit the shelves in the last couple of years. Californian forager Pascal Baudar explores and  transforms his local edible environment by using traditional as well as innovative methods to preserve and extract flavor. His work is both trend setting and deeply traditional and he has become a leading voice for appreciating and interpreting regional flora. While many of the plants he uses are local to southern California, his techniques and recipes can be very broadly applied, as he explains in the pages.

Wild Drinks and Cocktails

 Wild Drinks & Cocktails is the book I recommend to anyone just dipping their toes in the fizzy waters of fermentation and infusion; a paperback copy is \$\15.9\2 at Amazon.
Above: Wild Drinks & Cocktails is the book I recommend to anyone just dipping their toes in the fizzy waters of fermentation and infusion; a paperback copy is $15.92 at Amazon.

Emily Han’s slim volume, subtitled Handcrafted Squashes, Shrubs, Switchels, Tonics, and Infusions says it all. You would like to make these things? You wonder what they are? She explains how, simply, clearly, and winningly. The range within the pages is wide, from Spring Green Juice to Hawthorn Cordial, Shiso Vinegar to Burdock Pop. She explains oxymel and ginger bugs, water kefir and orgeat (you will have to read the book). All based on fruits, flowers, herbs and wild greens.

Cecil & Merl’s Bitters

I first met a bottle of handcrafted small batch Cecil and Merl Bitters (\$\26) when I was mixing up drinks for a Remodelista Market preview party in Manhattan. I worked with the Apricot and Cherry iterations, and loved them.
Above: I first met a bottle of handcrafted small batch Cecil and Merl Bitters ($26) when I was mixing up drinks for a Remodelista Market preview party in Manhattan. I worked with the Apricot and Cherry iterations, and loved them.

A few drops of bitters transform and enhance the character of a drink. I make bitters at home (they are an offshoot of my seasonal vermouths), but most people do not. The process takes time and blending practice. Cecil and Merl’s nuanced bitters are very versatile, and their use does not have to be restricted to drinks, as the apples above illustrate (see the recipe for stewed apples).

Cecil and Merl's tote gift pack

Above:  Cecil and Merl also offer gift packages like this Brooklyn Tote, a canvas bag that comes with Apricot and Cherry Bitters and a copy of Made in Brooklyn—An Essential Guide to the Borough’s Artisanal Food & Drink Makers. The book is a hardback insider’s guide to the best of Brooklyn’s locally made food and beverages, with in-depth profiles and photos of more than 110 different makers.

Greenhook Ginsmith’s Beach Plum Gin

A 750-milliliter bottle of Greenhook Ginsmiths Beach Plum Gin Liqueur is \$49.99 at Astor Wines.
Above: A 750-milliliter bottle of Greenhook Ginsmiths Beach Plum Gin Liqueur is $49.99 at Astor Wines.
In late summer here in the Northeast small, juicy beach plums start to ripen on shrubs near the shoreline. To collect them in quantity, you need very good timing. Award winning Brooklyn-based Greenhook Ginsmiths sources this native American fruit from a Long Island grower and turns it into one of my favorite liquors, a North American iteration of Europe’s sloe gin, but with its own character. Gorgeously crimson, it is complex enough to sip on its own as a liqueur (it scored 91 points in Wine Enthusiast), and is wonderful shaken into a cocktail. Add a dash to a flute of New Year’s Champagne. It is a fantastic taste of the Northeast for craft cocktail enthusiasts, and cooks who like a splash of something special in their paté, panna cotta, or fancy dessert soufflé.

Spicebush from Integration Acres

A bag of Appalachian Allspice is available in two sizes (\1 ounce and \1 pound) at prices from \$3 to \$30 depending on size at Integration Acres. Photograph by Marie Viljoen.
Above: A bag of Appalachian Allspice is available in two sizes (1 ounce and 1 pound) at prices from $3 to $30 depending on size at Integration Acres. Photograph by Marie Viljoen.
As a forager and wild foods author, I use a lot of indigenous foods. My recipe-testing needs sometimes exceed what I have gathered myself, and that is where Integration Acres has stepped up. To my knowledge the Athens, Ohio-based outfit is the only purveyor of spicebush (also called Appalachian Allspice) in the US—or anywhere else, for that matter. Lindera benzoin is a small tree native to woodlands east of the Rockies. If you have spicebush growing nearby look for the fruit from summer, onwards. You can use the twigs and leaves, too, which are very aromatic. The fruit produced by the female tree is the spice, small and scarlet when ripe in late summer and early fall. It dries very well, despite being quite oily. The best place to keep it is in the freezer, until you need it. Ground up, or infused whole in sauces, spicebush adds a strong citrus and pepper note to bakes and other recipes. It is one of my most used spices, and I want everyone to know about this authentic North American flavor.

Raw Spice Bar

 In my recipe testing and food writing &#8\2\1\1; or simply for our daily dinner &#8\2\1\1; I use a wide variety of spices. As a forager and gardener I wild collect and grow some of them,  like sumac, mahlab (cherry kernels), or sansho (Zanthoxylum species, or prickly ash, in the US).
Above: In my recipe testing and food writing – or simply for our daily dinner – I use a wide variety of spices. As a forager and gardener I wild collect and grow some of them,  like sumac, mahlab (cherry kernels), or sansho (Zanthoxylum species, or prickly ash, in the US).

I like to be able to steer people to an excellent source for the ingredients I am able to forage. Call it online foraging. Raw Spice Bar sells high quality individual spices as well as quarterly and annual spice subscriptions; you receive a kit of spices tailored to specific dishes and recipes. A Gift Certificate or spice subscription to Raw Spice Bar’s tantalizing spice collection is a wonderful gift for both experienced and new cooks, giving them fresh ideas as well as guided inspiration.

Thai Limes and Fruit Trees

Photograph by Marie Viljoen.
Above: Photograph by Marie Viljoen.

I love my Thai limes (Citrus hystrix, also known as makrut). Right now they are overwintering inside our apartment. Since purchasing these two little trees in late 2015 from Lemon Citrus Tree, I have been smitten. They are like my pets. They had a good start: packaged expertly, in very good condition and excellent health. And customer service was both very prompt and efficient. Growing a semi tropical citrus has been a learning experience for me. I check for spider mites or scale indoors, and give the trees a good, deep drink just once a week. Outdoors in summer they are watered daily. They have rewarded me by doubling in size, and have been pruned three times (so that they fit the windows in winter!), and repotted once. Because they are grafted onto dwarf stock, their size will not become a huge problem, but continued pruning will be key. I purchased them for their famously aromatic leaves (as a South African I prefer their other usual names—Thai or makrut lime). I prepare a lot of Southeast Asian dishes, where the leaf is indispensable, and an infusion with gin is out of this word. To my delight, I now also have fruit, formed over summer and slowly ripening indoors. Its rind is intensely perfumed.

Lemon Citrus Tree stocks a wide and exciting selection of Live Fruit Trees ($30-$99) including limes, lemons, oranges and other citrus,  as well as avocados, loquats, olives, persimmons, pomegranates, and figs. It should be noted that due to USDA regulations, citrus cannot be shipped to every state (this is noted on the website under tree choices).

Grow Organic’s Seed Potatoes

Purple Majesty Potatoes (\1 pound) is \$3.99 from Grow Organic. Photograph by Marie Viljoen.
Above: Purple Majesty Potatoes (1 pound) is $3.99 from Grow Organic. Photograph by Marie Viljoen.
My spring-planted, summer-dug potato crops have been very satisfying. No matter how well I know to expect to dig up potatoes, actually discovering them under the plants is thrilling, like hunting for Easter eggs.

I have been shopping online from Grow Organic ever since discovering the company’s powdered oyster shells, nearly three years ago. I dug the powder into my vegetable pot to raise its pH level (it went from 5.4 to 6.8 over a year). One of the first things that impressed me when that package arrived was, well, the packaging. No plastic. The protection inside was neatly concertina’d, re-used cardboard. I have since bought and planted their garlic and their horseradish. Both thrived, the horseradish a little too much (small garden, big horseradish). The catalog I receive seasonally is wonderful garden reading and is packed with everything you need, and things you did not think you did need, for your organic garden care.

So that is my list of lovelies. Head over to 66 Square Feet to snag a chance at winning them (all).

What is your idea of a good gift for the botanically minded? What do you know that we do not? Ideas welcome!

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