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The Christmas before last, I recieved a trio of little books in my stocking. [No, I will never grow out of recieving a stocking!] All three were in the "Little Book Of .." series, but the one I am reviewing today is "Herb Tips", by William Fortt. I expect the book was bought for me because the blurb promises to "provide inspiration for keen gardeners and cooks", and I seem to spend most of my free time either in a kitchen or a garden. I grow quite a few of my own herbs, and tend others as part of my job as a trainee gardener. It is a subject I wanted to learn more about, so I was keen to see what the book offered. I don't know of the author, but a short entry says he is a life long gardener who has produced several other books.
The title "little book" is spot on, as this is really a tiny volume. Amazon say the book measures 10.3 by 9.8cm and I am not going to argue. One tip is spread across each double page spread, although the tip number is on one side and the information on the other. This does mean the small size of the book doesn't make the information it contains hard to read. However, there is only room for 50 entries in the whole book, which isn't a lot really. The cover price is £2.99, which does make up for this somewhat. There are no pictures inside, but I don't miss them as the book is so short that it isn't really the sort I would spend time browsing through. For the same reason, a lack of index doesn't seem a problem - it only takes a short while to flick through the book and find the entry you wanted.
The blurb promise you will learn how to grow parsley, correctly crush garlic and rediscover forgotten herbs such as purslane and hyssop for example. The tips as they come are rather brief and not in any partiular order. So while you are given the advice to soak parsley seed to help speed germination, there is no concrete information on how to sow it - e.g what time of year or how deeply. I have grown parsley for years so this doesn't trouble me but I do think this sort of simple information is necessary if you are going to advertise that you will show someone how to sow parsley. Similarly, while the book suggests that freezing is a good way of preserving certain herbs, there is no advice, even a sentence or two, as to what preparation the herbs would require first. I think for that reason the book is best regarded as stepping off point for finding more about the subject of herbs, if one brief tip piques your interest. There are many a time I would have liked the book to have gone into more detaiI. I wondered about the advice to put indoor grown basil outside for a few hours to cure it of aphids, and would like to have known the thinking behind this. Outdoor grown basil gets aphids sometimes in my experience but my indoor grown has largely escaped them. We are also told to forget any thought of growing curly parsley in favour of the flat leaved kind. The author doesn't say why, but I presume he agrees with those that think it tastes better. Personally I disagree! I think the book as a whole is more geared to the cook than the gardener, whatever it says on the blurb.
I found the book quite interesting to read, if quick. It reminded me of a few good ideas, and suggested new ones such as good flavour combinations for herb mixes. There are a few recipes for things such as watercress soup, and sage butter pasta sauce but not enough for me to recommend this as a cook book. The recipes are simple, because lack of space probably wouldn't allow for any other kind, but they aren't really the sort of dishes I would struggle to find in other cookbooks. I can't say this is a must read, but it is a nice enough book to get as a present. I think if you really want to know about herbs, you may as well put the £2.99 towards a more in depth guide to either growing or using them. If you have a casual interest and don't mind buying a book that you could read in 10 minutes flat, you will probably find a few tips of interest within the pages. If you have already grown herbs for a while, or have been reading up on them, I doubt you will find much food for thought here. I have opted to award it 3 stars, taking into account the low price.
First published 2006