Saturday, June 15, 2013

Cookbook indexing blues

One of the great defects of English books printed in the last century is the want of an index
Lafcadio Hearn

Indexing is perhaps the most neglected, unloved and undervalued aspect of book publishing. Dare I say it, indexes are so often dropped because budgets have blown out or the time frame for the print schedule has gone haywire, and the publisher has decided to leave it out altogether. Or, they get staff to cobble together a few keywords and hope for the best. These token indexes don’t serve much purpose or meaning except to infuriate the reader. For readers researching or undertaking intelligent reading, a good index underpins, contextualises and provides accurate, quick access to a book. And an index is essential to a cookbook tome that may have 1000 recipes within it. It’s not just War-and-Peace cookbooks that demand an index – all cookbooks, no matter their size should have an index. To all those people who love cookbooks – have you noticed how many number of bad or inadequate indexes there are?

Just the other day I joined my nearest local library – and what a thing of joy a library is, I might add! I happened to flick through a random cookbook and started to look at its index. I am sad to report that although the publishers thought to update and revise a 2005 published cookbook in 2009 – nobody, I gather paid any attention to the index. I don’t have the first edition of the cookbook to compare so I can’t comment on the integrity of the index but I can comment on the updated edition!

The book I am referring to is ‘Café food at home’ by Rosanna Thomson published by New Holland. If any of you have this at home or have access to a library, have a look through the index and you’ll soon learn a thing or two about how not to index a book.

Check out part of the cookbook mentioned here: cafe food at home

The entry under Juice has this: ‘juice, see beverages’
Turn to ‘beverages’ and there are no entries.
Always check your cross-references to make sure you don’t direct readers to a non-existent entry.

(snippet of the index - can you find beverages?)

(snippet of the index: juice see beverages)

Indexing recipes listed under ingredients is always useful but not so in this case. The randomness in this case is not helpful. Yes, there are recipes under ‘bananas, beef, chicken, chocolate, mushroom, eggs’, etc, which are great. But what happened to headings under ‘pasta, seafood, fish, soups, salads, rice or desserts’? Want to make risotto? Forget looking under ‘R’ for risotto or rice – look instead under ‘S’ for seafood risotto. Look under ‘chicken’ and see if you can find ‘barbecued chicken wraps’. No?

If we want to make a healthy beverage/juice – we have to know to look up ‘afternoon kick’ or ‘breakfast in a glass’, or go to contents table and look up the beverages chapter and flick through it to find what you want.  And yes, you can go back to the contents page and look up headings and page ranges but that would defeat the purpose of having an index - is it not easier to be directed straight to the source? I could go on but I’d better stop here, you get picture.

Please publishers, put a little more care and thought about how you want indexes created and how readers might look up ingredients and recipes. I’ll have more examples to come in the near future – in the meantime, please feel free to share your cookbook indexing stories.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

From brown thumbs green things grow

Blackberries, blackberries, blackberries! Those sweet, luscious, juicy, t-shirt staining fruits! I loved looking for them alongside saffron milkcap mushrooms in the pine forests. Deep in the New South Wales hills, they always seemed to pop up just about the same time pine mushrooms would be ready for the picking. Those idyllic forest forages for fungi and fruit are long behind me and I must admit, I would be happy if I never see another blackberry bramble again. You see, the property we’ve bought is over-run by the introduced European blackberry or rubus fruticosus. These suckers are so prolific that they've made the list on the weeds of national significance register.  

Gullies are full of them – these European blackberries are so tall the shrubs tower heads above me (remember that these are growing from a gully up!). They sprout from between the cracks in bitumen, they strangle fruit trees, smother slow-growing natives, shred the succulents to smithereens and like jungle vines – from the trees hang sinister trailing super-sharp vines- all entangled – metres up in the air! It’s threatening to impinge upon the dams – some are actually growing in water! There isn't a stop button for the growth of these plants. There doesn’t seem to be any downtime for this rampaging perennial. Its flowers are beautiful and delicate, and yes, its fruits are delicious but these positive aspects are negated by thorns so fierce they rip flesh like tissue paper. Vines when pulled hard occasionally whip back – lashing me in the face, arms and legs. It can be dangerous business clearing blackberry by hand. 

(blackberry obscuring silver wattle and banksia)

(close-up of spikiness)

(carpet of thorns, post-brushcutting)

The only benefactors here seem to be the rabbits and hares that have burrowed and made their homes under these thorny shrubs. Basil the dog has been tramping through these shrubs in search of rabbits and often comes back completely bloodied from being ripped by thorns. We often pull out thorns stuck in his head and his poor soft ears will never be the same again – having been shredded over and over again.

 (holes big enough for wombats to burrow, let alone rabbits!)

We have eschewed heavy machinery and the use of pesticides and toxic weed killer in the quest to rid our land of weeds. We plan to go down the organic/natural road for our fruit and nut trees in the future so spraying isn't a logical choice or fit. Instead, we’re opting to hand clear the weeds – the locals might laugh at our methods but I don’t see an easy way out. The previous owner had completely neglected the land and its upkeep. It’s sad to see a perfectly good piece of land being left to neglect. There are some interesting and beautiful plants on the property – all overtaken by weeds and blackberry. Slowly we’re clearing one patch at a time and discovering and uncovering all manner of plant life, and an incinerator  in the process (!) under thick blankets of blackberry. With the use of a heavy duty brushcutter and some muscles, we’re finally seeing progress. While S slashes away like a frenzied Freddie Krueger in the gully – I watch the sea of thorns parting like the red sea. Meanwhile, I have the job of freeing up and disentangling the fruit trees and other plants from the clutches of the evil berry.

(the parting of the blackberry sea)

(hillocks of vines raked up) 

(a birthday candle uncovered after a clearing) 
( a clump of native grass and tree ferns uncovered, albeit a little worse for wear after a brushcutter haircut - these were previously hidden!)

(life's little ironies - on top a pile of vines, a healthy crop of nasturtium has spread its canopy. Now to figure out how to get rid of vines without disturbing the lovely spread!)

They say it’s the simple things in life that matter most and in this case, it’s the small things that really a difference. The relief and joy I feel every time I clear the vines from a tree – I can almost hear the tree breathing a sigh of relief! So the clearing continues and the berries will no doubt sprawl again through its vast network of infinite roots; this time though, we’ll be there ready with hardy gloves, a pair of secateurs, mattock and shovel.

It will be some time before I look fondly at a blackberry again. I intend on gorging on them when summer arrives as my act of revenge for all my pricked fingers, bloodied hands and multiple scratches.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Foraging Workshop

The first day of winter heralded not just a change of seasons, for me, it was the start of learning and exploring the natural, local world of edibles around me. I have always been interested in finding out what's edible and what isn't. I suppose the fear of being lost and starving in the wilderness has fuelled some of this curiosity. I am known to wonder out loud if the ducks and swans in the lakes are edible. Channel Living (Woodbridge's not-for-profit community organisation) put together a foraging workshop with the help of the knowledgeable and passionate Paulette Whitney from Provenance Growers recently. 

My first introduction to foraged foods go back to high school where I remember vividly an Indigenous bush tucker chef came to demonstrate to our Home Economics class a lesson in Indigenous foods. We tried all sorts of bush tucker – Davidson's plums, warrigal greens, lemon myrtle, quandongs, macadamias and a few wriggly specimens. I remember the fat, creamy Witchetty grubs being flash fried in butter. Not wanting to be squeamish, I tried one and then a second one – they tasted a bit like prawns I remember. Rather delicious! I have not forgotten that Home Ec lesson and have always longed to be able to repeat that day of experimenting with food that was completely alien to me. 

The foraging workshop took place in one of the Co-op member's property. The property is up in the hills of Birchs Bay with stunning views overlooking d'Entrecasteux Channel and Bruny Island. From above we could see clouds rolling in on the horizon and down below, in the calm waters were floating big pens of salmon where aquaculture, I believe is thriving. Paulette had brought some samples with her and laid out on the table were specimens she had picked from her property and from nearby parks. These were then passed around so we could all try. 
(view from the hills of Birchs Bay)
(beautiful day for foraging)

These were some of the plants we tried:
sea celery/sea parsley
sea blite
chick weed
flick weed
sheep's sorrel
corn spurry
shepherd's purse
fat hen

(table full of edibles)

(the blackberry nightshade)

Some of the plants that stood out for me were sea celery with its lovely salty flavour, samphire – little pops of salt and texture, sheep's sorrel with its refreshing lemony aftertaste, fumitory for its bitter effect and nettles for its slight buzzy tingling in my throat. I must say after a morning of trying all sorts of plants and weeds – the herbaceous, grassy green after-taste lingered long in my mouth.

(silver wattle)

We walked around the property to see what we could forage and we did find a few things. Some of the edible things we found on our walk were: buckhorn plantain (a common weed in lots of gardens); blackberry nightshade, Hawthorn, red native currants, Kangaroo apples (make sure the berries are super ripe before you eat them). Silver wattle flowers, according to Paulette make a good sweet addition to pancake batter. She continued to tell us that Spanish heath flowers were being used to smoke mutton birds as part of the Savour Tasmania food festival. That would have been an interesting combination! I learned that tree ferns are edible although at the expense of the plant – as to crack open its starchy heart would mean killing the tree. Native cherry berries are also edible, reeds. clumps of miners lettuce and sticky weed were among some of the found edibles in the property. There were a few more edibles I didn't quite catch unfortunately. A few helpful tips cropped up too in Paulette's workshop. Fumitory is used in cheesemaking to curdle milk. Plantain is good for healing cuts and wounds, petty spurge's milky sap is used to treat skin cancers and eczema.

Another important thing to note with foraging is that with some plants look like other plants and one can easily mistake a poisonous plant for an edible one. I certainly made that mistake – in certain section of our own property I've seen a mass of what I thought to be comfrey, luckily I checked with Paulette. These turned out to be the not so edible Fox Glove. She also made us aware of the fashionable trend of restaurant chefs foraging for ingredients - with Tasmanian chefs leading the way - and it makes sense when we have such a variety of edibles right on our doorstep.The good news is I have buckhorn plantain, Spanish heath, sticky weed and fumitory growing everywhere, a ton of forget-me-nots and nasturtiums and a good-looking silver wattle which I intend to add to my pancakes. I don't think I'll look at 'weeds' the same again but now, at least, I don't just have the sole option of composting them – I can choose to eat them as well. Imagine eating more than a dozen herbs and plants all collected from your garden – give your lettuce and rocket salad a break and your body will thank you for the diversity of minerals and vitamins you're introducing to your system.

For more information on the good things that Channel Living do - visit:  

For a thorough read on Tassie's wild grown and cultivated foods, and thoughtful writing, read:

(of course, i couldn't resist taking a pic of this cute fungi growing out of this piece of dung)