"The Smith & Hawkens Gardeners' Community Cookbook"

Pros: Lots of recipes; inventive recipes; delicious recipes
Cons: Just short of outstanding
Rating: 4 out of 5

This is a very good cookbook. The recipes are yummy, and there are prodigious numbers of them (this book is almost 500 pages long). There are plenty of tips regarding both gardening and cooking. So why am I giving this 4 stars instead of 5?

Most of this book falls just short of excellent. The recipes are very good, but most are not truly outstanding. The tips and hints are useful, but very few made me say, “wow, I never would have thought of that!”

The index is first-rate, and there’s also a contributors’ index (this cookbook was compiled from contributions). The tips and hints are fairly scattered, although they reside near relevant dishes and you can often find them in the index.

The recipes start off with a quote from the contributor, and some of these are pretty funny, or at least fun to read.

The recipes are grouped into chapters: Starters, Salads, Soups, Pasta Aplenty, Main Dishes, Vegetable Sides, Sauces Salsas and Pestos, Pantry Perks, The Baker, and Sweets. This is not a vegetarian cookbook, although obviously since it’s a “Gardeners'” cookbook the emphasis is on fresh produce. There are a number of international influences on the cooking, which makes for nice variety. Some few of the ingredients may be hard to find, but most are widely available in your supermarket, and substitutions are usually suggested.

The soups have so far been our favorite section. The Heavenly Carrot Soup uses butter, white wine, vegetables, and ground coriander. The flavor is best after a night in the refrigerator, so make it a day in advance. The Cheddar Chowder was quite delicious. It starts with broth and some vegetables, and you add a basic white sauce and shredded cheddar. The soup is thick enough to be served in a bread bowl, and you might try adding crisp fried bacon bits instead of the diced ham the recipe calls for. (We like to use the garlic-smoked bacon our grocery store has started carrying.) The cheese taste is relatively mild even if you use a sharp cheddar, so definitely use a sharp cheddar. Oh, one warning: you might not want to use the new sweet, high-beta carotene “maroon carrots” in this recipe, unless you want a pale pink soup! (Not that anything like this happened to us, of course not. Good thing it was the week of Valentine’s Day, so we could claim it was intentional…)

The “Beautiful Beet Soup” is quite delicious, and shockingly pink, so it’s an amusing thing to serve to guests.

So far, the Lemon Chicken with Tarragon has been the best recipe we’ve made from this book, and the one truly outstanding recipe. I’m not a huge fan of chicken, but this is a wonderful, flavorful recipe that even reheats well! It uses boneless skinless chicken breasts, butter, mustard, lemon juice, tarragon, crushed crackers, parmesan cheese, and other flavorings to wonderful effect.

So yes, by all means, buy this book. The lack of knock-your-socks-off WOW recipes isn’t a terrible thing; what’s here is still good quality and quite delicious. Certainly, if you like to use fresh herbs and vegetables, this cookbook will give you a lot of ideas!

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