With the ever-increasing accessibility of gourmet supermarkets and specialty restaurants, the ease of eating today has meant that we can be guilty of forgetting where our food comes from and how it ended up on the table.
Chef and avid gardener Annie Smithers’ new book, Annie’s Garden to Table, is more like an ode to her beloved garden than a cookbook. Sure, it has recipes, but they serve as an accompaniment to the diary entries Smithers writes to detail the lives of her backyard produce.
Several pages into the book, it becomes obvious that Smithers has great respect and love for her garden, the produce it yields and the birds that keep the greenery company. In one diary entry Smithers coos over her “beloved fowl” as the geese (her “two girls”) begin laying eggs, in perfect synchronicity with the coming of fresh chives and tarragon for some herb omelettes, which she has included a mouth-watering recipe for.
The section of the diary dating from August to September the following year is a riveting read, even for readers with less of a green thumb. Smithers, along with her assistant gardener Simon, follows and nurtures the growth of the plants and farm creatures. Each story ends with a recipe, using some in-season, fresh-from-the-garden produce. Her simple, fuss-free recipes seem to allow the ingredients to continue to flourish even when they’ve been on the chopping board or the stovetop.
Smithers began her culinary career as an apprentice for fellow garden enthusiast Stephanie Alexander. In 2005, she opened her own restaurant, Annie Smithers Bistrot, in Kyneton, complete with the kitchen garden that stars in this new book.
On of the chef’s mantras serves as a good reminder: “We should eat less, eat better and look for less perfection in our food.” The last two points might seem a bit of an oxymoron, but Smithers reminds us to value fresher, more local products, which may not be as squeaky clean and identical as supermarket goods, but are nonetheless just as good – if not better.
Annie’s Garden to Table is out through Penguin and is available at all good bookstores.