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Irresistible Gift for a Gardener – Wong’s Grow for Flavor

From time to time I receive emails from authors or publishers wanting me to mention, review, or recommend their books on TMG. Most of those are readily dismissed because they don’t share the organic values that TMG encourages.

Even the ones that may share the values I promote are most often dismissed as well. Not because they’re not of value, but because I just don’t have time to do everything. And books take my reading them first — at least enough to give a detailed review.

On January 28 I received an email from a young woman named Caroline who had spent some time reading through TMG. She told me a bit about the books that she was promoting and offered to send me copies.

I did a little googling and found them interesting. Still – I hesitated. I just didn’t need something else to do. Replying to her I told her that there was no guarantee I would ever mention them on TMG and I didn’t want her company to spend money to send them and think they’d instantly appear on my site.

She sent them anyway.

Here’s my email to her on February 9, 2016 after receiving the books:

Dear Caroline,

I received the books today.

I really did NOT want to look at them today, because I’m so busy with other things more pressing, BUT I just couldn’t resist at least looking at one.  As you can guess – that was a mistake! 🙂 Here I am an hour later spell bound with Grow for Flavor.  A beautifully done book with lots of good and interesting information.  I found  things that I have a difference of opinion about, but that would certainly not keep me from recommending or buying the book.

I absolutely refuse to even open the micro greens book until a day or so goes by. (I’ll have to hide the book to stick to that.)

As soon as I can I want to do a post on Grow for Flavor at least.  You were definitely correct when you said you thought my readers would be interested!  I agree that they will be.

When I finally get to it (a review), I’ll let you know.
I am so appreciative of your gifting me with these two books.  I didn’t think I needed one more book in this house, but I’m very happy you felt otherwise.

Thank you Caroline.
Theresa

An ethnobotantist! What’s that?

The books author, James Wong, is a young man (born 1981) who is also a television presenter, a garden designer, and an ethnobotanist.

When I googled ehtnobotanists I found many variations on the definition. But I think it’s safe to say that they’re scientists and their studies generally combine botany with other things. In Mr Wong’s case, he has combined it with growing food.

The book is a result of his research delving through thousands of scientific (research based) papers and trialing many of those techniques in his back yard.

Some of my “take-aways” from Grow for Flavor:

In addition to all kinds of interesting information, the author gives us his choices for the best varieties (and sometimes the worst) on each crop he covers.

And what gardener can resist a list of the best and worst varieties to give us ideas about what we may want to try next.

  • Wong considers Detroit Dark Red beets the tastiest of all beets; intensely sweet with no soil-like hint of flavor. (I don’t grow a lot of beets but I’ve grown numerous varieties and Detroit Dark Red is my favorite as well.)
  • Regarding summer squash, the author suggests (as do I) swapping the “bland modern cultivars, bred in the relentless pursuit of massive yields” (but no taste) with a tasty heirloom. His recommendation for the best-flavored of all summer squashes is an old Italian heirloom from Rome, Costata Romanesco. (Will someone tell me why I’ve not grown that variety!  It’s an error I will correct this year.)

It’s a beautiful little gray-green zucchini that Wong says is best picked at 6 inches with its flower still attached and fried whole in garlicky olive oil. (Wow!)

And for those who love (to eat) the blossoms this plant produces dozens of male blossoms that you can harvest without sacrificing any fruit.

Be warned that “modern” varieties have very similar names and they produce twice as much fruit.  Thus, they are called “improvements”.  But as I’ve covered many times in various posts, it’s some of the heirlooms and/or open pollinated varieties that’ll give you the greatest taste and nutritional value.

  • Ah — now an irresistible piece of information given about strawberries:

“All modern strawberries descend from an accidental cross between a species from Chile and another from Virginia that popped up in a French botanic garden centuries ago. When attempting to create a variety with truly superior flavor, breeders went back to the drawing board to recreate the original cross-–.  The result was “Snow White” whose knock out aroma and unparalled sweetness belies its ivory color.” (Yes, it’s white!)

Ok, which one of us will be the first to try Snow White? As much as I love strawberries being red, I think I have to make an exception and try this one.  If not this year, certainly next year.

  • Knowing what variety not to buy can be as valuable a piece of information as knowing which ones you should buy.  Regarding figs, Wong says “If you see the label Brown Turkey — put it down quietly and step away slowly before you condemn yourself to a lifetime of flavorless figs.”
  • “—while low-acid ‘sweet’ cherries are infinitely more popular in catalogs, — nothing comes close to the bitter-sweet tang of a ripe, red “Morello.”

When we first moved to our current home in 1998 there was a wonderful old cherry tree on the property that bordered ours.  Its limbs hung over our back borders and we enjoyed the taste of those cherries each day during their season when we could get to them before the birds. Can’t help but wonder if it was the “morello” variety.

From at least the 1950’s and back, folks in our area were pretty self-sufficient and grew almost all of what they ate. Many of the old fruit trees that still exist here are varieties that not only did well in our area, but offered the best in flavor too.

Sad that just a few decades ago over 50 varieties were routinely cultivated and now only two sour cherry varieties are commonly sold.  These statistics for the UK have been echoed around the world.

If you’re able to grow a cherry tree and reap the health and taste rewards of fresh picked cherries, you may want to choose your variety from Wong’s suggestions:

  1. May Duke – eating fresh
  2. Morello – pies and jams
  3. Montmorency – syrups and liquers

____

After reading the chapter on berries, I’m ready to take up my Caroline raspberries and plant one of the varieties recommended in the book. (Caroline is ok, but not as impressive as I had hoped when planting it years ago.)

  • Joan J is said to be the best for taste (a surprise considering their larger size;  smaller usually means better taste) and the one to choose if you’re after a vintage, country fair raspberry flavor —- that offers up an impressive yield from mid-summer right thought to mid-autumn. This might just be one for me!

It’s been so long since I bought my blackberry plants that I don’t remember the thornless variety I chose. I didn’t recognize in the book what may have been its name.  My variety may have been one of the ones developed by the University of Arkansas and thus, at least a cousin to the Reuben and Apache varieties for which the author had high regard.

  • Years ago I would have been most tempted by the variety Karaka Black blackberry, said to be one of the most floral and complex-flavored of all the brambles AND huge. As soon as I read that plants were viciously thorny, I put my enthusiasm for this variety aside.
  • The one thing I was very glad to learn about blueberries was that one study at Oregon’s Health Sciences suggested that cooking blueberries may double their antioxidant capacity.  Although it’s not conclusive it was still encouraging since I freeze 1/2 my harvest for eating in the winter.  Sorta nice to think I might be getting some added benefit from a blueberry tart or pie.  😉

And There’s a Lot More

*Have you ever heard of FROZEN CORN POPS?*

I had not, until now. For various reasons I don’t grow corn, but this idea made me wish I did.  Hope you’ll try this and let me know how you and your family like them.

  • “In Japan whole frozen corn cobs are eaten like ice pops as a popular late-summer treat for kids. Fold back the leaves around each sheath and tie them back in a bundle with a piece of string  This will form your ice pop ‘stick.’ Place in plastic bag and freeze until solid (about 6 hours).”

*Love-in-a-Mist — BUT WAIT — that’s a flower!*

It’s been years since I grew Love-in-a-Mist. But it’s back on my list after reading what Wong had to say.

Pods have “fragrant black seeds that are a popular spice in their native Syria” and “work culinary magic on everything from fruit salads and ice cream to cheesecakes and salsas”.

The seeds keep for a year or more in a sealed jar in a cool, dry spot. I can hardly wait to try them.

*Recipes*

The author gives suggestions throughout the book on how to prepare various foods.  The pictorial presentations grab your attention immediately.

  • Spiced Pumpkin, Tarragon and Marshmallow Soup – (Wong said it might sound terrible but it tastes wonderful! It sure looked wonderful in the picture.)
  • Blackberry, Goat Cheese, and Pea Pizza  – Yes, that’s green garden peas with blackberries and goat cheese and believe it or not it looks delicious!  I’m trying it the minute my blackberries come in and I’ll make my pizza crust from scratch and have get out my fresh frozen garden peas.
  • Great for parties or appetizers are thin slivers of different vegetables rolled in thin slices of cucumber and/or carrot.  The suggested dip is made of tahini, rice wine vinegar and soy sauce.
  • The herb, nettle, with its sky-high mineral content is combined with parmesan cheese, cashews, garlic and lemon to make a pesto that’s great on crusty bread with chicken or most anything else. (Nettle is easy to grow but very prickly.  That disappears when it’s cooked leaving a broccoli/watercresslike flavor.)

*Vinegars, Balsamics, & Pickles*

I plan to try the raspberry and bay vinegar.  Sounds pretty easy and keeps for well over a year.

  • Cover the raspberries with cider vinegar.
  • Add a bay leaf. Let soak in the refrigerator for a week.
  • Strain through a sieve into a saucepan and stir in the sugar. (I plan on substituting honey.)
  • Simmer until sweetening is dissolved.
  • Pour into sterilized bottles and store in a cool, dark place.

For a gourmet treat to drizzle over salads – Balsamic Fig Reduction

  • Blend equal volumes of fig pulp and balsamic vinegar in a blender and strain through sieve.
  • Pour into wide shallow pan and simmer on very low heat until reduced by half, stirring occasionally about 30-40 minutes.
  • Bottle and serve.  Will keep in the fridge for at least a month.

Also Sections on *Drying, Preserving in Oil, Jamming, and Botanical Booze Cupboard*

One jam recipe I want to explore more is the one that has 80% less sweetener than most jams AND you can substitute stevia if you want.

I wish I had an occasion to use Wong’s wonderful suggestions for preserving various fruit harvest by using an alcohol such as vodka to extract and concentrate the flavor chemicals of the fruit. “—The potent antimicrobial properties of alcohol giving it the amazing ability to preserve this (concentrate) for years to come.”

TIP:  Many of these gourmet treats are so easy to prepare and would add so much to your holiday meals or to any special occasion.   If you’re interested in this book, look through it as soon as you can, so you can be ready to try things when your harvest comes in. To be able to serve them for the holidays you have to know about them as the ingredients become available in your garden.

So Much I Haven’t Mentioned

This book covers so much more than the crops I’ve mentioned in this post:  Sweet potatoes, mushrooms, shallots and other specialty onions, winter radishes, squash flowers, pumpkin leaves, garlic scapes, broad bean tops, how to eat your weeds, edible flowers, herbs, chili peppers, green almonds, gourmet salad greens, root crops other than parsnips, various peas, carrots, winter squash, pears, plums, wine grapes, persimmons, crystallized flowers, flower waters & syrups, truffles, and home-grown spices.

The Down Side – My Opinion

  • Design Doesn’t Work for the Reader in Various Places

This 10″ x  7 1/2 ” by one inch thick book is colorful and designed to be beautiful.  Unfortunately some the design choices just don’t work for all readers.  Some of the pages are in full color. In particular, pages of red, purple, and periwinkle blue are very difficult to read.  In order to read information about strawberry varieties that was printed on a full color red page I needed a bright light (either daylight or a bright light shining on the page). Fortunately those pages are few.

What was even more annoying to me were the small “blocks” of type sprinkled throughout the book that contain various pieces of interesting information headlined with type that could be seen but with remaining type printed so light you need not only bright light, but a magnifying glass to read.

I checked with Caroline (the young woman who sent me the book) to make sure I didn’t have a misprint of the book. She wrote back and said it was that way in all the books. However,  she is passing on the critiques to the publisher so maybe future editions can be altered.

  • I’m Not into “Gimmick” Gardening

I’ve found the concept of adding a little bit of this magic elixir and little bit of that can do more harm than good even though it might appear to work at first. So I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at those sections of the book.

The reader has to remember that the book is written from the authors researching and his experiments with what he has researched.  His desire was to report those findings and he does.  Thus, a lot of what I call “gimmick” sprays are included. Whether you use them or not, just depends on your beliefs and concepts.  Just be aware that what may be termed “scientific” is not always correct.

  • Much Good Information, with an Occasional Piece I Have Found to be Incorrect

This book was a gigantic undertaking in my opinion.  It seems it would be almost impossible to wade through about 2,000 research papers without repeating at least a few of the “same old same old” errors that are promoted widely.  The author sees through a lot of the hype that is out there and enlightens the reader on much of it.  But a few “same olds” have slipped through.

The one that comes to mind is one I hear all the time.  “Blueberries diva-like demand is acid soil.”  While this may somehow be true in general, I can only tell you that I’ve been getting bumper crops of blueberries for about 16 years and my soil where my blueberries grow has always been a pH of 6.6 to 6.8.  That’s a far cry from an acid soil of 5.5 pH.

The lesson behind this is, that while some plants are known to require a certain pH, they can and will produce well in other soils if they have enough organic matter in the soil and other conditions (sun, etc) are right.

Final Thoughts

As I told Caroline, I didn’t think I needed one more book in this house, but I’m delighted to have been privileged to own and review Grow for Flavor by James Wong.

The other book Caroline sent me, Microgreens by Fionna Hill, remains unopened so I can get something done.

If you need a gift for a gardener, I think you need look no further.  I really don’t know how any gardener could resist this book.


_________

All content including photos are copyrighted by TendingMyGarden.com.  All rights Reserved.

5 comments to Irresistible Gift for a Gardener – Wong’s Grow for Flavor

  • Ray Kent

    Someday I must settle down and just grow for a crop but suppliers keep sending a free package of something with each order and I just have to try them.

    I finally took down some of my trees (it really hurt) so I can get better crop rotation and try a few more things. I’ve tried so many varieties of things that “are just fantastic” but “we” don’t really enjoy them so I think “fantastic” is an individual choice; but of course what if you don’t try “this””one, you might miss out. LOL

    Enjoy your garden

    Ray Kent

  • Julie Martin

    I checked out Microgreens (earlier version) from my library a few years ago; it’s an excellent resource. I took pages and pages of notes and was really excited about them; but between keeping my sourdough and kefir alive and canning, freezing and dehydrating produce I just never got around to doing it. I also have greens in my coldframe most of the winter, so I just lost interest. If you want to grow microgreens I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Julie

  • Theresa

    Ray, “fantastic” is definitely subjective. No doubt about it.
    And you’re right to about if we don’t try new stuff we might miss out on something wonderful.
    All my favorite stuff has been found by trying new things.
    Sorry about your trees. 🙁

    Julie, thanks for the recommendation about Microgreens!

    Theresa

  • Doris H

    I had no idea that James Wong had written a “cook” book. This young man had a tv show titled “Grow Your Own Drugs” on the PBS channel. The concept was trying natural alternative remedies for certain ailments. Wong stated that he was not a doctor but the mixtures he made from herbs and spices might work for you. Natural instead of chemical.
    I suppose it is not too much of a stretch to write about flavor too. Thank you Theresa. I thoroughly enjoyed watching his show and I am sure I will enjoy reading (and using) his ideas in his book. Off I go to find a copy.

  • Toni Brock

    Thank you for the review and peek inside the pages of what sounds like a great book. I love the recipes for using what you harvest. I also love the guidance for using wild edibles. Thanks Theresa I must get a copy.

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