In my family, when I was growing up, we had a saying 'Take sixteen eggs'. It meant anything which, while desirable in itself, was in-excess of our, or anyone else's, needs; a reference to Mrs Beeton's cookery.
* * *
This post is about a book I've been sent to review.
'Build a Better Vegetable Garden
30 DIY Projects to Improve Your Harvest'.
It's by Joyce Russell with photographs by Ben Russell.
Published by Frances Lincoln.
Publication date - 5th January 2017
Publication date - 5th January 2017
|From a 1903 version of Mrs Beeton's Cookery Book.|
Despite this, I get real joy from books recommending you take cushions from your house and put them in the garden, or that reckon you'll have the time and wealth to build beautiful paths and sheds on your allotment before spending only half an hour each day on the veg.. I like pictures. I like absurdity.
But I don't review all the books I'm sent. 'Sorry,' I say to the kind promoter. ' Sorry, I really can't recommend this'. (One of these rejects included a garden so boring it has now been completely ripped out and completely re-designed and completely re-planted . . . so I feel my judgement on that one has been justified!)
So . . . I'm about to tell you of a book so peculiar I really and truly have lain awake in the night puzzling about who would read it. It's not for me. I doubt it's for you. So what is it for? None the less, I've not put it aside so . . . there must be something which attracts . . .
Back to the sixteen eggs.
|It surprises me that tinned food was in the shops in 1903|
- let alone tinned oysters!
If given the choice of simple meals I'd rather eat baked beans on toast.
Now to the book about how to 'Build a Better Vegetable Garden'. (Using wood.)
|Heavy duty protection for carrots.|
|A way to grow beans,|
Then there's the hinged construction for growing beans up. Poles can be a bit awkward to tie into lines or wig-wams . . . but it doesn't really take that long if you only need a few . . and it's very satisfying when they're all neatly in place . . . wouldn't a wooden frame which looks like a clothes airer not fly away in our mid-summer storms?
And I seriously doubt that many children are likely to be gripped for very long by seeing the legs of 'salad trays' standing in wellington boots filled with 'slug repellent material'. (Interesting concept that; 'slug repellent material'.)
And when it comes to Raspberry Supports - it's not 'take sixteen eggs' but 'make holes in the ground with a crowbar' and 'use a sledgehammer to knock the posts in place'. (I think Mrs Beeton would have recommended employing a local professional and pretending you'd done it yourself.)
And in terms of health and safety . . . I don't think using a power-tool to drive screws downwards into the sides of frames supported only by hand is sensible. Nor using the lawn as a work bench. Stones are mysterious creatures. You think you've cleared them but they wriggle underground till they're back exactly where you don't want them; and if they've taken residence right under your whirring power drill . . trouble!
|Some of the tools recommended in the 'Build a Better Garden' book.|
|Some of the kitchen tools recommended|
for home cooking in 1903.
(To some degree, it's a matter of taste too. I love cold frames but beyond that I like an uncluttered atmosphere in vegetable gardens.)
Back to the question then - why am I writing about this book? And, for that matter, why did I lie in bed wondering why I'd decided I would do so?
|This is the kind of thing I admire but can never achieve.|
Perfect and beautiful symmetry.
So, this book is, I've decided, a kind of philosophy of wonder . . . of how can anyone be this precise and clever? . . . and why would anyone want these things? . . . and would I buy all this equipment unless I wanted a career in carrot-fort construction? . . . and why did the 1925 list-maker think it necessary to pencil into the front of her Mrs Beeton cookery book that her family would be subsisting on a relentless diet of potatoes, cold ham, cheese and swedes once Christmas Day was over?
For the thirteen fresh eggs which figure at the top of 'what's needed for Boxing Day' vanish as soon as they're mentioned. So here's another context in which we can say 'take sixteen eggs'. The strange desire for such superfluities surfaces when, although we don't specially want to be mega-rich, we'd wistfully like to have a little more than we have just at present. So we write 'take sixteen eggs' before knuckling down and trying to pretend, as that list maker did, that serving potato mashed is enough of a variation to make a plain diet festively exciting. And we write 'work bench' on our Father Christmas list before sticking bean poles in the ground as usual.
. . . except . . . except . . . I also have a cookery book which advises
how to cook spinach . . .
and ignoring all other recipes in it, it's worth the price for that alone . . .
And for some of us
having it explained how to make a wooden raised bed
that doesn't wobble would be
. . . pretty handy . . . hm.