Robin Hackett
August 8, 2019

Most good cookbooks give readers some knowledge and a handful of recipes they’re excited to try. Abra Berens’ Ruffage (Chronicle Books) is far more useful. Ruffage teaches readers to cook the vegetables that most people never knew how to deal with. It also provides new ways to prepare the ones that people already love.

For the homesteader, small-scale vegetable farmer or curious home-cook looking to learn more about vegetable cookery, this book is an indispensable guide.

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  • Title: Ruffage: A Practical Guide to Vegetables
  • Author: Abra Berens
  • Cover Price: $35
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books

ruffage book cover review

In an era enthralled with nose-to-tail animal butchery, Ruffage sets out to apply the same principles of responsible consumption to vegetables. The book is encyclopedic in its ambitions. It contains some 300 recipes focusing on 29 vegetables. It’s range is broad, covering vegetables as disparate as tomatoes and celery root. Berens gives each vegetable its own chapter containing several recipes designed to showcase its various attributes. The chapter on radishes, for instance, provides instructions for poaching and pan-roasting as well as serving them raw with bagna cauda, a thick, garlic-heavy Italian sauce.

As if that breadth weren’t impressive enough, Berens also supplies variations or additions for each of the cooking methods she describes. After giving instructions on poaching radishes in chicken stock and white wine, for instance, Berens provides several recipes that use the poached radishes as an ingredient, including a roast chicken and celery salad and a pumpernickel toast with cream cheese.

Additionally, the book contains brief sections on how to buy and store each vegetable described. An example: “If buying carrots with their greens, cut the greens and store separately because the greens will wick water away from the roots.”

Berens begins each chapter with an essay about the vegetable covered. Whereas some essays describe Berens’ personal experience with a vegetable, others read like a growers’ manual: “To grow garlic you’ll have to start in the fall. Buy organic or unsprayed hardneck garlic.” Berens knows a thing or two about planting garlic, coming from a background in farming as well as cooking. This agricultural perspective is apparent throughout the book. Many of the essays contain information about growing techniques or botany, which backs up the book’s general concern for making full use of vegetables.

As Berens describes in her essay on fennel, the aims of the whole-animal butchery movement can (and should) be applied to vegetables as well: “Getting two or three meals out of a plant instead of one, you’re saving money, energy and time. … [Also,] the flavors are different throughout the plant, and by consuming all of it you get to taste those subtle differences.”

Although Ruffage does contain a lot of specific recipes, its overarching concern seems to be teaching readers how to cook vegetables in new and exciting ways. This focus on the basics of vegetable cookery is what makes Ruffage a valuable resource for homesteaders or commercial vegetable farmers overwhelmed by their own bounty.

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