The title might conjure images of cows grazing in Hyde Park or pigs on Richmond Green. But this particular urban farmer is cultivating an allotment in north London and Celia Brooks Brown is the aforementioned ‘farmer’.
My reader from beyond the UK might not even know what an allotment is. It’s truly an allotment of land, perhaps 10 by 15 yards and in an urban area. Many of them started as patches of land given to workers by their employer. Railway lines often sported verges of allotments tended by engine drivers and their families – a good way to spin out meagre wages back then. And even now they serve the purpose of making money go a little further, with the added benefit of being able to grow untreated produce.
Celia is known to me as the author of one of my all-time favourite vegetarian cookbooks, World Vegetarian Classics (see my review here). It’s a book I use often. As Celia is passionate about good food I guess it was a logical progression from writing about it to growing it. It wasn’t an instantly fulfilled ambition as she had to wait for several years for her allotment to be, well, allotted, but now it’s in full production and giving plenty of tasty veggies with which Celia will work her culinary magic, for this is not only a book about growing but eating those vegetables.
There are plenty of vegetable-growing manuals on the market and even one or two which focus on allotments. But New Urban Farmer has a different slant from most. Yes, it will teach you how to grow your plants but Celia doesn’t assume you are already well-grounded in all things horticultural. This is a learning journey that the author has taken and she invites you to travel with her. A book of seedlings and delicious food, it also carries tales of fellow “lottie” enthusiasts like Two-Shed Fred. Celia passes on their advice and experience. These are not qualified gardeners but rather just ordinary folk who happen to have been doing it for years.
Preserving your glut of veggies
The book is divided by season and then by month. Each section boasts a comprehensive list of seeds to sow direct, those to sow inside, plants ready to harvest and then recipes to show your crop to best advantage. Because Celia is an experienced cook she is well placed to give advice about storing and preserving your glut of veggies. She suggests, for example, that extra leeks can be held in a jug of water for several days if the roots are kept muddy and intact.
This volume might easily be retitled The Urban Farmer’s Diary: it’s a frank observation of progress and setbacks. It’s refreshing to know that not all goes well in the garden. It’s easy to lose heart when we are invariably presented with TV gardening shows awash with vegetables that look good enough to be plastic, hauled from ground that is so light and fluffy that the spuds can be raised with nothing more than a twist of the wrist and a teaspoon. Gardening has never really been like that. It’s reassuring to read the trials and tribulations of one who is confronting the same problems as her readers.
New Urban Farmer is a practical and inspiring read. It isn’t patronising and the veggies don’t have Latin names. It’s amusing, encouraging and informative. A book written by woman who manages to juggle a successful career as well as maintaining her little corner of land. It’s a great book for anyone who is thinking of embarking on home food production, either via the allotment or a patch in the garden.
New Urban Farmer – From plot to plate – a year on the allotment
Author: Celia Brooks Brown
Published by: Quadrille Publishing
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018