December 17, 1999:

by Carol Ann Sayle

Boggy Creek Farm, 112 pp., $12.95 (paper)

(Available at Boggy Creek Farm, among other locations)

I'm a big fan of Boggy Creek Farm, Austin's little urban farm gem on the east side of town. A wonderfully rare resource, Boggy Creek provides those in the know with unbelievably fresh, organic produce and henhouse eggs from a peaceful setting located in the heart of the city. Farming dynamos Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle have become heroes for countless Austin home cooks, myself included. They fill our refrigerators with vegetables and our minds with knowledge about gardening, cooking, and eating wisely. Now Carol Ann has taken her role as "farmstand counselor" one step further, writing and publishing Eating in Season: Recipes From Boggy Creek Farm.

Perhaps more than providing new culinary inspiration, Sayle's book feeds the soul. Its pages are filled with her trademark prose, which recipients of her weekly "Friends of the Farm" correspondence will recognize as folksy, down-home, and funny. Illustrated with Sayle's own cheerful line drawings, Eating in Season is also cram-packed with little lessons about sowing your own food and eating according to the gardening calendar in Central Texas. As explained in the book's well-organized introduction, "In this part of Texas we have two main seasons: cold and hot." What follows are dozens of recipes for each of those two seasons, and recipe headnotes that give the "inside scoop" on the ingredients. For her recipe for Baked Chard with Parmesan Cheese, for example, Sayle begins, "Many recipes for chard counsel that the stems should be cut off and dicarded (gasp!)." The book also contains two handy charts outlining exactly which crops are in season when, and Sayle also does her best to deconstruct crops, like winter's abundant greens, that might otherwise intimidate cooks.

When it comes to cooking instructions, Sayle isn't a stickler for detail. As she explains in her introduction, she cooks "by the pinch-of-this, handful-of-that method," and although her recipes (and the recipes of several friends who buy at the farm) do feature ingredient measurements, her cooking directions are far from typical. Most recipes, however, are fast and simple to make, with straightforward sautés and humble soups featured most prominently. All the recipes are vegetarian and many are vegan, the best ones those that take a new look at ordinary vegetables. Consider stuffing red bell peppers with grated zucchini, basil, breadcrumbs, and creamy Gorgonzola cheese or transforming spinach into a soup with the addition of yogurt, water, and Parmesan.

Although there are several recipes in Eating in Season I'm eager to try, for me the real value of Sayle's book is as a reference tool. Because year-round shipping now makes it possible to eat a multitude of vegetables all year long, I forget which ones are truly in season when. Armed with Eating in Season, I can now take to the farm stand or grocery store and bring home the foods I was meant to consume at a particular point in time. Then I can flip through the pages of Eating in Season and gather inspiration on how to prepare them fast and genuinely, without a lot of fuss.

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