The Piglet2018 / First Round, 2018

Gather vs. Six Seasons

Gather

Gill Meller

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Six Seasons

Joshua McFadden & Martha Holmberg

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Judged by: Evan Kleiman

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Evan Kleiman is a chef, author, radio host, and restaurateur. On the KCRW radio show and podcast “Good Food,” Kleiman explores how food intersects with human life. She is also the founder of LA’s Slow Food Chapter and a member of the LA Food Policy Council. She was inducted into the James Beard Foundation Who's Who of Food and Beverage in 2017.

The Judgment

There are so many cookbooks in my house that a friend suggested I start making furniture from them. I literally wade through stacks of them from my front door, up the stairs that are lined with books, through the living room to the kitchen. And yet, I managed to miss these two. Shame on me. Especially since they are both farm-to-table books, a genre around which my professional life is in tight orbit. I regularly shop at farmers’ markets, since I’m lucky enough to live in Los Angeles, and I am accustomed to—in fact prefer—ingredient-driven cooking.  

Or do I say “cookery”?  One of these competitors, Gather: Everyday Seasonal Food from a Year in Our Landscapes by Gill Meller, is a UK publication. Meller belongs to the coterie of culinary rustics associated with the River Cottage, a place of idyllic farm-to-table dreams, which hosts event dinners, cookery classes and perhaps your wedding! This is his first book, with lush imagery by photographer Andrew Montgomery. I’ve been harboring a persistent dream of escaping to an English cottage with an Aga, where I can cook and bake and watch lambs cavort in the drizzle. I am ready to be won over.

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My other book is Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables by Joshua McFadden with Martha Holmberg. McFadden is an American chef from the Midwest who has a small restaurant group in Portland, Oregon. He opened his first place, Ava Gene’s, after cooking at many restaurants known for their farm-to-table pedigree (Blue Hill, Franny’s, and Momofuku in New York). He also spent time running Four Season Farm in Maine, an operation akin to River Cottage writ small.

So here I am, about to cook from two cookbooks that speak the same language but come from very different cultures. I should say at the outset that I am constitutionally incapable of following a recipe, including my own. However, I do cook nearly every night, so the opportunity to discover another palate I can plunder for my own daily inventory is strong.

First, let’s look at how the books are structured. Gather is organized by place. So in addition to Farm, there are chapters on Seashore, Garden, Orchard, Field, Woodland, Moor (really?) and Harbour. Under Woodland, there is a section on Squirrel. (I’m not going to be using those recipes.) Six Seasons is organized around, well, seasons, with an extra two thrown in for good measure because on the left coast there are usually more than four. As a frequenter of farmers’ markets, I’ve found seasonally organized cookbooks allow me to get inspired before I shop; I can come prepared.

The first recipe I attempted from Gather was the first one in the book because by some miracle, I had all the needed ingredients. Its title—Blue Cheese with Honey, Thyme, Dates, Fried Onions & Seeds—is nothing if not thorough, and I was eager to make the dish. One of my standard appetizers is goat-cheese stuffed dates dipped in pistachios, and this salad seemed like its cousin. It’s from the Farm section of the book, although dates are more Orchard (I guess Meller is leaning on the blue cheese for this categorization). It’s quickly thrown together: The only cooking involved is a saute of onions with thyme and pumpkin seeds. The set-up of the dish is a bit overly considered, though: You scatter the cheese, dates and warm onion combo separately over the plates, then drizzle the honey and mix it up together on each plate. Then you separately make the oil and vinegar dressing and drizzle that over the salads. The result was strangely in-your-face, with a distinct lack of balance between the sweet dates, cooked onion, and the sharpness of the blue cheese (even though I used a mild, creamy blue). The crunch of the seeds wasn’t pronounced enough. We didn’t finish our plates. Maybe it would work in small doses atop a crostino?

 

Finding disappointment in my first Gather foray, I moved on to the next recipe, also from Farm: Yogurt & Cardamom Sorbet with Brown Butter & Poppy Seed Shortbread. It’s really a frozen yogurt—and one of the most delicious creamsicle experiences I’ve had. I’ll definitely make it again, even though I was handicapped by my lack of an ice cream maker. I simply froze the mixture until it was slushy, used my food processor to beat it, then froze it again. The combination of orange zest and cardamom was subtle and had a synergy I didn’t expect. I meant to share it but ate the entire quart myself in two sittings.  

Unfortunately, I had a problem with the accompanying shortbread. Perhaps part of the problem was the UK/American ingredient difference. The recipe called for golden superfine sugar. Not having the prescribed sugar, I instead took some light brown sugar and pulverized it further in my food processor. The technique calls for making brown butter, pouring it over the sugar in a bowl, then incorporating that with the flour/cornstarch mixture to form a “soft dough.”  Mine was not a dough, not even a soft one.  It was a batter and remained one even after I added more flour. I loved the garnish of poppy seeds, but the resulting shortbread tasted too much of cornstarch, was unpleasantly greasy, and fell apart too easily. Strike two.

Next up, a dramatically deep-colored autumn salad of Fried Pears with Roast Red Onions & Crisped Puy Lentils. It is logically (this time) located in the Orchard section of the book, with the seasonal indication “summer” (not so logically...well, maybe in Britain?). It’s a lovely recipe, although I’m not a huge fan of the new trend of leaving pulses a bit crunchy—as in, undercooked.

Time to dig into Six Seasons. I had turnips in the fridge, so I looked them up (Late Season) and found Half-Steamed Turnips with Alla Diavola Butter. In the dish’s headnote, Joshua says that kimchi was his inspiration. He creates kimchi-like flavors by making a compound butter with smoked paprika, peperoncini, chile flakes, cracked pepper and Tabasco. I made an executive decision to instead use finely minced kimchi, which I had on hand, with butter. I followed the directions to saute the turnips, then steam them with sequential additions of water. This is a way I cook veg a lot and his directions for it were spot-on. I added the kimchi butter and tossed. The turnips were delicious. I had leftovers and used them in an udon soup. When a primary recipe can become part of a second recipe, it’s always a win.  

Moving on, I tackled Cauliflower Steak with Provolone and Pickled Peppers. Photographer Laura Dart’s shot of the dish was gorgeous in that casual-yet-perfect Ottolenghi way. I was intrigued by the idea of using a cauliflower as a platform for garnish. While you’re roasting the steaks, you’re putting together a mixture of breadcrumbs, cheese, and piquant peppers, which is added atop the slabs of cooked cauliflower. After a quick browning, it’s ready. This is one of those dishes that can easily be adapted to what you have in the fridge; I’ll be making it at least once a week forever.  

 

The same night, I made the Roasted String Beans and Scallions with Pine Nut Vinaigrette. It’s essentially a roasted green bean salad. Trimming the scallions the same size as the beans and roasting them together is a smart conceit. Meanwhile, you’re making a sharp dressing that’s creamy from the toasted pine nuts. A quick toss with soft herbs like mint and basil adds freshness. I can imagine using that dressing the way you would a tahini dressing—or even as a drizzle over a plate of pesto pasta.

All in all, both books are worth the investment. Each provides a photograph for every recipe and good writing about the connection between land, plate, and human. My biggest complaint about Gather is that it focuses too much on landscapes most of us have no access to (woodland, moor) or ingredients that are difficult to source; but I’m unrepentantly urban and very unlikely to prepare game and other more “wild” ingredients at home. I’d rather go to a restaurant for those kinds of dishes–and I’d rather see Meller’s plating style at a restaurant. The book does offer a perk for those interested in increasing their expertise with aquatic plants: a fantastic series of recipes using different seaweeds and other sea vegetables.

Still, for me, the clear winner is Six Seasons. McFadden’s recipes have a welcome clarity of flavors with lovely twists. Who among us doesn’t need “A New Way with Vegetables”? It’s a resource I’ll use often to figure out what I should buy at the market and, even better, what I can cook from the fridge. If I had seen this book on my stairs in October or November it would have been my favorite of the year.  

 

And the winner is…

Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables

Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables

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Do you Agree? (48 comments)

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Very disappointed that Six Season's does not include any spinach recipes--otherwise prefer this book over the other.

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Totally Agree!
P.S. If you grow a garden Six Seasons is a must have resource.

D93caf58 6e30 4975 8b64 93cef7427afa  fb avatar

This review does seem overly-driven by the fact that one book is British and one American, last year Diana Henry's book suffered from the same issue on the Piglet. Having said that, in London I have both books - and Six Seasons is the one I prefer, if anyone likes this kind of book Anna Jones's Modern Cook's Year is a far better book than either of these (as to be honest are all of her books).

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I have yet to make a recipe from Six Seasons that is anything but inspired, fresh, and yummy. I adore this book.

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As a recent Los Angeles resident, I'd love to know your favorite farmer's markets! Also just discovered KCRW, and I'm excited to check out your podcast. Sorry, this 100% not about the books being judged.

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I've loved paging through Gather and dreaming of countryside and seasons that we don't experience in Southern California. The couple of things I've made have turned out well. Damson plums, with sage, Camembert and cacao nibs, yum! And Meller offers alternative ingredients that work well for many of the recipes, such as squirrel. But I'm excited now to get Six Seasons. That's the wonderful thing about the Piglet!

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Golden caster sugar is available in all Latino markets - just grind it fine in the food processor (Demerara or turbinado would work too ground fine). Regular American soft brown sugar has too much moisture from molasses.

Great reviews BTW.

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Thanks Fresser. Good to know!

A99cf0a7 035d 47b3 abf9 a21b1796e127

Usually I agree with the reviewer, but there were a few things in this that got me really cross!

First: to make shortbread if you don't have superfine sugar you use granulated not brown broken down, that is much closer to the texture, which while it won't have that caramel flavour, it will mean the shortbread recipe should work? Next, I know the idea of cookbooks is that sometimes you can use them as a template, but using kimchee in the butter instead sort of writes off the idea of trying to follow or use the recipe, especially following up with a note of how that is how the reviewer usually cooks veggies anyway.

Finally, "My biggest complaint about Gather is that it focuses too much on landscapes most of us have no access to." - is that not the entire point? Are we now going to discount Jerusalem because most of us don't get to eat in the households and visit the markets like Ottolenghi does, or write off all of Emiko Davies' recipes because we can't wander the streets of Italy exactly sharing her experiences?

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I agree with your observations - felt the same way, despite being happy with the book chosen.

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Hi Rachel. Thanks for thinking enough about my review to comment. I was asked to cook from each book as I would normally which I did. The thread of both books was farm(ish) to table. To make a comparison to Jerusalem or Emiko's book is disingenuous as both of those have ingredients that are totally accessible in any most cities whereas Gather did not. If I'm going to keep another book in my house which already has upward of 2k cookbooks I have to know I'm going to use it regularly.

A99cf0a7 035d 47b3 abf9 a21b1796e127

Fair enough, everyone is entitled to their opinion (and I'm probably still feeling the recent frustration trying to source ingredients to cook things from books from both the authors I mentioned, when I have access to both central London specialist stores and countryside farm shops and suppliers!) I think as a cookbook author I'm just a bit sensitive to people changing a recipe and then saying it does not work - you've probably had that feeling too when someone has taken one of your recipes and said that "I changed this, this and this and this is not a good recipe, did not work at all", when you know how much you tested it in the form it is written! Thanks for taking the time to write back - I really appreciate it.

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I haven't read Gather yet, but I was disappointed that in Six Seasons a dressing is described as "feminine" and also by the errors/omissions in the recipe instructions (e.g. not using an egg wash on the hand pies, which clearly had been done for the photo!)

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Hi LizyB - As an author I should let you know that if there is a discrepancy between the recipe and the photo, most likely this is a photography/food stylist issue and not that the recipe instructions had errors or omissions.

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Look, I love Six Seasons and am pulling for it to win this whole thing, but I wish the reviewer had picked a wider range of recipes to sample from Gather. It seems like an equally valuable way of organizing a local produce focused cookbook and it’s not like England is all that different from New England... but even if I lived in the British woodlands, I don’t think I’d be cooking squirrel! Six Seasons also has some fiddley dishes, but it seemed like she picked the most accessible ones from it while focusing on the least accessible ones from Gather. I’m left curious if it’s all wild game and caster sugar or if there’s something for those of us who shop at a farmers market but don’t hunt and forage our fields and forests. I still agree with the outcome but I don’t know if the game was fair...

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Gotta say, I completely agree.

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I picked dishes from both books that I had ingredients for after doing a huge shopping at the farmers market. I am an ingredient driven cook. I see what I have and look for ideas/recipes to utilize what's that. Perhaps I should have cooked more elaborately from Gather but I was drawn in so much less than with Six Seasons.

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Yikes! My mind immediately leaps ahead to a potential SFAC vs Six Seasons finale -- who could possibly decide that one? Not me. But then again, this is The Piglet so who knows what will happen before the final showdown.

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It super frustrating to continue to honor books for a seasonal culture that most of us do not live in. If someone wrote a seasonal cookbook dedicated to the crops of the northeast, January-April, I'd be a convert.

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Yes!!!

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

There are recipes for you in this book. I just didn't happen to highlight them because, sorry, Southern California. But seriously the winter and fall chapters are lovely. We're just in perpetual spring/summer here.

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I've been happily working through the Six Seasons' Winter recipes here in Maine and haven't been disappointed yet.

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Great review! Six Season was one of my absolute favorites from last year and I love this vegetable forward trend!

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Wow!, I own Six Seasons and do not own Gather, in fact I hadn't even heard of it prior to the Piglet, so I had no opinion on the outcome of this review but wow, did I ever find the tone of this review condescending. Let's hope cookbook authors don't feel the need to Americanize everything. There is a whole big world outside of the United States of America!

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For me, a “focus on landscapes that most of us have no access to” is a plus, not a minus The seaweeds and sea vegetables too!

Baad181c f509 41b9 9268 4051a7224b3b  sheila

Interesting. I'm searching my own SoCal-centric mindset and struggling to pick up on the condescension. Maybe because I've listened to Evan's radio show for almost 20 years and have never heard her sound condescending. As I read the review, I heard it in her voice and missed what you picked up on. I thought she fairly explained her own urban vantage point but didn't think it was done at the expense of any other. Evan's comments on Gather certainly made me want to get my hands on a copy so I can admire and explore it myself!

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I didn’t find her tone condescending, but I have the same complaint I have every year. The minimum number of recipes the testers are required to prepare is just too small. 2 recipes from an entire book? Also, I agree that ingredient swapping should be permitted, but shouldn’t be the basis for a review. Make it twice, once as written.

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When they ask you to judge for piglet they don't give you a set of rules. As someone who reads about five to seven cookbooks a week I have to bring who I am and how I cook to the experience. I enjoy cooking from a huge variety of cuisines and have an extensive pantry to service Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Indian, and Italian dishes which are in constant rotation at my house. But I was asked to pick a favorite and I knew just from flipping through the pages and reading the recipes which that was going to be. As I said above, if I'm going to encourage people to purchase a book to bring into their home to use it has to be one that I feel will get the most use. I'm literally cooking my way through Six Seasons.

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I actually made four recipes from the book and talked about each.

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I'm impressed you found 4 to make. I cooked extensively from six seasons and had some hits and some misses. Fair enough. I got Gather out of the library and was compelled to return it almost immediately. I couldn't even find anything that sounded appealing. The ingredients were especially esoteric and the dishes didn't look enticing enough to even try to source most of them. Unlike Jerusalem and other cookbooks referenced in this thread which were exciting to read and exciting to cook from even if you had to search for the ingredients a little. I just couldn't get beyond revulsion at many of the recipes in gather. I wouldn't consider myself to have a particularly refined or unrefined palate, i'm an adventurous cook and eater and just couldn't see the appeal here.

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Wonderful review! I love, love, love Six Seasons and I am rooting for it to go ALL THE WAY!

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Excellent review, and I am so pleased Six Seasons won. It is a useful and delightful book.

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Thank you for a thorough review. Enjoyed reading and was led to agree to the outcome. I only have Six Seasons, but Gather still intrigues me.

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Gather is a lovely book and beautifully written by a very smart guy. I'll use the sea vegetable pages a lot. Go to a bookstore and page through it!

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I love English cookbooks, but sadly a lot of times the recipes just don't work in translation. Six Seasons, on the other hand.....this is an amazing book. I feel like it's one of those "instant classics".....one of those books that I will turn to again and again.

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I love this review, so beautifully written and interesting. These books were well matched against each other at the outset, and Evan Kleiman is the perfect judge of them. She tried a number of recipes from each and had a clear favorite at the end. It’s hard not to love someone who ate a quart of “frozen yogurt” on her own in two sittings! Her book Cucina Fresca, written with Viana LaPlace, is one of my absolute favorites. It lives on the shelf in my kitchen where I have room only for the ones I like best and use often, and it is worn and splattered. The recipe for Fried Peppers on Page 161 is a miracle and, literally, should be a FOOD52 Genius Recipe, although I make it only with red peppers, not an assortment of colors.

This is the first Piglet where I didn’t already own most of the books. I only had five of them, including Six Seasons, and when I looked the list of sixteen over, Gather was the one I didn’t have that I wanted, so I ordered it from the UK but have not yet received it. I had not heard of it before and was drawn to it by how beautiful it is and how much I love England, having spent a lot of childhood time in The Wirral, brought home by my English mother. I keep India Tree Caster Sugar and Icing and Fondant Sugar (confectioner’s) in the house, but I don’t have their Golden Baker’s. Perhaps, while it might not be exactly the same, organic sugar that has fine crystals and a golden hue can be used in its stead.

I always dither about which edition of a book to get – the British or American - and while this isn’t the time or the place, I would love to know what most people do. It’s especially tricky when it’s a baking book even though I have British glass measuring cups. (A pint’s not really a pound the world around.) Julie Klam used the British edition of Violet Bakery when she did her excellent Piglet review of it, and Sweet is already being revised because of problems with the conversion from British to American, errata sheet available from the publisher.

If I had to place a bet, I would say that most people will agree with this review. (So far, the gloves aren’t off yet.) Six Seasons is user friendly and accessible with excellent recipes and good writing. I suspect I will enjoy Gather even if it’s only just to look through.

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That's the thing. Gather is a book I'd love to look through. Six Seasons is a book I love to cook from.

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I always buy the UK edition. But then, I have a degree in Math and I trust myself to do the conversions more than I trust the publishers. I also know all the conversion factors by heart and can do the math in my head. A lot of people just don't want to deal with that while they are trying to focus on getting dinner on the table, and that is completely understandable.

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I also go for the UK version, for similar reasons to MelMM. And because sometimes the American versions change more than the measurements, that is - tone changes. Also, recently one or more of Ottolenghi's cookbooks were found riddled with measurement conversion errors.

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I go for the UK version as often as possible for a few reasons, in addition to the fact that I love all things British to begin with. I am a food scientist so very comfortable with metric units and as a baker, I find it simpler to weigh ingredients and generally more accurate. I appreciate the different verbiage and ingredient names and no chance of conversion errors when edited for the US market. I think Gather would be lovely to look through and I requested it from the library; I own Six Seasons and I will be cooking out of it a lot, so I am glad it is moving forward.

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Wow Victoria, thank you so much for the Cucina Fresca love! I so enjoy hearing from folks who have made it good and splattered.

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Exactly! Well said.

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Six Seasons is just....that good. There's a thing he does where every recipe seems approachable and familiar, but there's a flavor combinatior or wild card ingredient that makes it totally unique and arresting. The beet slaw with pistacho butter is one of the most remarkable things I've ever eaten - totally unique, cheffy, and mindblowing, but also real good next to some ribs on the deck.