“Savor: Rustic Recipes Inspired by Forest, Field, and Farm” authored by Ilona Oppenheim
I was skeptical of this book at first, I won’t lie about it. Anything written by the Crunchy – Granola types tends to raise my hackles a bit, and with good reason; I have a very bad history with materials and groups like this- and an overall poor opinion of the Sustainable Food Movement in the US. Thankfully Savor has exceeded my expectations in more than a few great ways.
Don’t get me wrong. It certainly is crunchy- with her being introduced to the Sustainable Food Movement via The Omnivore’s Dilemma, no less (a book which, while educational, is chock-full of its own problems); she takes almost every opportunity available to impress upon the reader the values she holds concerning farm raised, grass fed, unpasteurized, organic, self foraged, and more. The book is also filled with story after story of her own life experiences, many of them showing that she comes from a place of relative privilege.
I know in my heart that this will ultimately be offputting for many people- especially those who are impoverished or of lower socioeconomic status; those who do not have the ability to buy pasture raised and grass feed meats, visit a local Farmer’s Market, or any of the standard trappings of a new food movement that ultimately leaves these people in the dust.
That being said, in no area does she degrade the reader or look down on them for not being born to the same status and luck as she has been graced with; while she impresses these values upon the reader and makes note after note of their importance (to her), she ultimately recognizes that some people do not have such luxury. In my eyes, this is rare and redeems the book in so many ways. It is also further redeemed by the author’s own life and cultural background, making such an emphasis far less nerve grating coming from a woman who did not grow up predominantly in American Culture, but who instead was a first generation Swiss immigrant to it.
As for the bulk of the book, as stated it exceeded my expectations.
The Photography is such a wonderful touch to the book. The photos are clear, vibrant, and relevant to the subject; they switch from single page subjects to two page spreads. Some of them are stunning nature shots, but subjects of the photographs also range from beautifully rustic food photography, to family oriented images, and even natural compositions of single ingredients (such as a two page spread of nothing but variously colored onions).
It feels candid, real, rich, and natural- and that feeling extends even to the organization of the book; it genuinely is 1 part recipe book, 1 part photographic diary, and 1 part biography, all wrapped up in what feels like a truly heartfelt advertisement for the Sustainable Food Movement. But it works for it, and the outcome is a stunning piece both visually and otherwise.
However, it does not follow the traditional organization where items are grouped by Meal, Desert, Beverage (and so on). Instead it follows a format very similar to Bless Your Heart, with the author stating:
The quality of the ingredients and their sourcing is an important part of this book, so rather than organizing the chapters traditionally, I grouped them by where to find the ingredients for the recipes, because that’s where every meal I make begins. (page 13)
Where Bless Your Heart fails at a relatively similar (yet vastly different) organization style, however, Savor succeeds in leaps and bounds; the recipes are not thrown hazardously into the chapters with no formatting, but are instead well arranged in a logical succession from foundation to desert.
Not all follow this formatting, but the odd recipes that fall out of line are rare and do not detract from it. The exception to this, however, is the little “informative” pages- such as the page titled “The Benefits of Grass Fed Milk” in the first Chapter (page 22). I would much prefer that pages like this not appear after a succession of recipes, but before them as they are important foundations for the recipes. Placing them in between recipes seems unnatural and disorganized to me; out of the established progression of the chapter.
The recipes themselves are a work of art, though. They truly are. I was genuinely surprised by the simplicity of most- especially those for foundation ingredients such as Ghee and Homemade Yoghurt and Ricotta Cheese. They aren’t all simple, however. There are some mildly complex ones strewn throughout the book’s pages as well. Others are reliant on ingredients that are going to be extremely hard, unrealistic, or even expensive to obtain for some people- such as Bison Steak or Salmon for instance.
Though I did have a slight problem with the “informative” pages (for lack of better words) being thrown in among recipes instead of predeceasing them in the chapters, the only real and legitimate problems that I had with some of the material was two fold.
The first is a slight problem with the encouragement to wild forage some items such as Mushrooms. Mushrooms especially required a lifetime of knowledge and a good eye for identification if one has any hope of winding up with an edible mushroom or one of (sometimes several) poisonous look-a-likes. And while it is unrealistic to expect her to create an in depth guide to the identification of edible Fungi within the book, seeing at least a small note about the dangers would be sufficient enough to calm my anxiety on the subject. After all, did she smartly manage to include a note about unsafe areas to wild harvest plants- though that note consisted only of a warning about pesticides and made no mention of other harmful factors (such as air pollution) that may also make wild harvested plants in an area unsafe.
The second problem I had was with certain scientific information. The first instance is when talking about grass fed beef producing healthier meat (page 16), but reoccurs on several topics here and there throughout the book. I am a stickler for sourcing any time an individual makes scientific, medical, or other claims- and unfortunately this book does no such thing.
If the author makes any mention of “research” or “studies” that have been scientifically conducted, I absolutely believe that these must be fully sourced- either with a source attribution after the sentence, a mark indicating a foot note attribution, or a mark denoting a source listed in the Resources section (which, thankfully, this book has); scientific mention requires scientific validation and a willingness to show from where you gathered this information. To not do so is ultimately inexcusable in a published work in my eyes, regardless of whether or not the information is well known.
That said, Savor is definitely a book that I would not only purchase, but would recommend.
The beauty of the book alone makes it a wonderful addition to anyone’s coffee table. And though the author sits in a position of relative privilege concerning food, the recipes are true to the description’s promise of being simple, wholesome, and easy to make. Likewise, despite the author’s membership within the Sustainable Food Movement, many of them could genuinely be created without access to grass fed and organic [sic] materials, Farmer’s Markets, and other things which the author promotes; I have no doubt that it would impact the quality of the food (and I will test that for certain in the coming weeks), but it certainly does not make the recipes inaccessible to the average person… Not outside of the rare recipe which requires harder-to-obtain ingredients (at least for the socioeconomically underprivileged, anyways).