by Claire Hopley
Reviewed June 2012 by Margaret Christie, CISA Special Projects Director
Ever have more vegetables than you know what to do with? Want a cookbook that’s fun to read and designed to use crops that are in season together, right here in the Valley—and locally published, to boot? Leverett food writer Claire Hopley has written the book for you!
Claire Hopley has written the Amherst Bulletin’s “Food Talk” column for more than 20 years. She’s also written about food history, and both her local and her historical knowledge are evident in her new book, Valley Vegetables. Published locally by Levellers Press, the book includes a wide variety of recipes for 40 vegetables grown right here, including main and side dishes, sauces, and some preserves like pickles and chutneys. Although Hopley’s book follows no strict rules about eating or sourcing food, the recipes found here pay attention to what crops are in season together, making it easy for cooks who are sourcing much of their food from local farms. Recipes are arranged in alphabetical order, from acorn squash to zucchini, which also facilitates finding something good to do with an abundant harvest. Some of the recipes, in fact, come from local farms—I spotted recipes from both Mary Ellen Warchol of Stockbridge Farm and Nicki Ciesluk of Ciesluk Farmstand.
Given the ready availability of recipes on-line, printed cookbooks need to be really readable in order to compete. Valley Vegetables succeeds on that score, offering an informative introduction to each vegetable and enough information about each recipe to whet your appetite. Hopley also provides interesting tidbits of historical or cultural information. For example, when Shakespeare’s Falstaff “ran up a bill for potatoes and sack,” he was eating sweet potatoes, not white ones, because sweet potatoes made the journey from the Americas to Europe earlier than white ones. He paired them with sack, or sherry, which Hopley notes is a good complement to sweet potatoes.
Occasional photographs by Hopley’s husband, Robert Hopley, offer glimpses of Valley farm stand’s and markets as well as pictures of finished dishes. My favorite shows a bumpy celeriac root next to a creamy celeriac soup in an elegant cup. I expect that I will use Hopley’s book for exactly its intended purpose: to expand my options for creating enticing dishes using abundant, in-season vegetables from the Pioneer Valley. The book is available at Collective Copies in Amherst and Florence and online.
It can also be found at Broadside Books in Northampton, Odyssey Books in South Hadley and the Village Coop in Leverett.