For the current edition of Cook the Books, we are reading Sarah Addison Allen’s novel Garden Spells. Not unlike a book I discusseda few months ago (Blessed Are the Cheesemakers by Sarah-Kate Lynch), Garden Spells is a fairy tale, and like all good fairy tales, it is a satisfying reading.
My favorite character of the novel is the good fairy, a.k.a. Evanelle. She accepts herself the way she is and also accepts other people the way they are, without trying to change their attitudes, actions or beliefs. What she does is giving them "things they may need" and she does so in the open. There is no hidden meaning in her actions, because she has no idea what specific need the "thing" will answer.
From the garden of the title, Claire, one of the two sisters who are the protagonists of the novel, gets herbs and flowers. She uses them in the preparation of dishes for her catering business and of drinks and preserves. Some of this products are meant to influence the eater/drinker. In this, then, Claire is different from Evanelle.
I am not a gardener, but I have a small space where I conduct experiments with varying degrees of success. Small and irregularly tended as it is, my garden is always a place of magic, though not of spells.
I have a set of foxglow plants (digitale) that are taller than the house1, a dark pink sweet pea (pisello odoroso) that is blooming with enthusiasm, sprouting radishes and red Russian kale, leaf lettuce, various members of the allium family, red and purple poppies (papaveri), a number of other culinary herbs (erbe aromatiche)
I have never really used flowers in my dishes and reading Garden Spells made me want to perform a small-scale test. As I mentioned in my most recent post, I am trying to become better at using rye flour (farina di segale), which I get as part of my share in a grain CSA. My first rye bread adventure, a few months ago, did not go well, but as I was perusing a recent King Arthur Flour catalog, a recipe caught my attention: Canapé Pumpernickel Bread. I halved the quantities and shaped the dough into a 13-inch baton. I really liked the result: the flavor is complex, the texture rich with whole grains but still smooth.
I thought that this rye bread would lend itself to be enriched with flowers, so I harvested and added the following to the dough: the flowers of three sprigs of my lemon thyme, two chive blossoms and a few flowers of winter savory (santoreggia).
Chive Blossom — ensures you will win an argument. Conveniently, also an antidote for hurt feelings.
flowering lemon thyme
I don't know if thyme flowers have any special power (the Waverley Kitchen Journal at the end of the novel does not include an entry for thyme), but I am officially in love with the bread I made. The flavor of thyme is there and a light hint of onion. I think that next time I will be a bit more daring and increase the quantities.
This is the list of ingredients I used to make the bread. I am reporting the "volume" version, but I actually looked at the "weight" version, converted ounces to grams, then halved the quantities and weighed the ingredients accordingly.
- 3/4 cup [80 g] whole-grain rye flour (see my previous post)
- 3/4 cup [90 g] all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur all-purpose flour)
- 1/2 cup [55 g] whole-wheat flour (I get this also as part of my CSA grain share)
- 1/2 cup [30 g] large flakes of rye bran that I sift off the stone-ground flour (see my previous post) [note that this is not the same as rye chops, but my approximation using an ingredient I have at hand]
- 1 tablespoon [14 g] gluten flour
- 1 teaspoons instant yeast
- 3/4 teaspoons sea salt
- 3/4 cup [175 ml] lukewarm water
- 1 1/2 [22.5 ml] tablespoons olive oil
- flowers from three springs of lemon thyme, two chive blossoms (florets separated) and a few flowers of winter savory
I followed the instructions as stated in the original recipe, except that I made one baton and let it rise on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. I heated the oven to 375 F with an empty baking sheet inside and when the bread was ready to be baked, I sprinkled its surface with a bit of water, moved it with the parchment paper on the hot baking sheet and put it in the oven.
Slices of this rye bread are great served with spreads (like my roasted pepper and almond dip in the top photo) and cheese.
Back to Garden Spells, towards the end of the novel, there is a sentence that I really liked and I hope I won't forget:
When you're happy for yourself, it fills you. When you're happy for someone else, it pours over.
I think the same can be said about sadness. I spent a fair amount of time in my garden during the weekend, trying to focus on small tasks, as a reaction to the pouring over of sadness caused by reading news and watching images coming from Norway. As I mentioned in a previous post, I love Norway, I think that nature-wise it is the most beautiful country in Europe. Many times during my two visits, I felt like I was in a magical kingdom. It is difficult to grasp the reality of such an enchanted place being visited by unspeakable horror. I hope what happened will not change Norway. The country and its people are special and they will always have a special place in my heart.
1 As Lori Lynn mentions in her comment, foxglove is poisonous. It is very common around here and reseeds itself. I keep it for two reasons: it's a beautiful plant and deer don't like it.
This post contains the roundup of the event.
I am also contributing this post to the July edition of Healing Foods, the event created and organized by Siri of Cooking with Siri and hosted this month by Simona of briciole (that would be me). I chose the theme of the month to be whole grains and whole-grain flours.
This post contains the roundup of the event.
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