A Curious Harvest is a cookbook that comes out of my experiences running The Gleaners’ Kitchen. It is illustrated by my good friend Dayna Safferstein, who lived with me in a communal house for two years. I am honored to have collaborated with her on this project – in many ways the book is more about her illustrations than anything I’ve written in it. Consider it a work of visual art.
A Curious Harvest describes how to look at food through the discerning eyes of a dumpster diver. When most people walk into the kitchen, they ask themselves, “What do I want?” This question brings to mind packaged products or finished dishes. In contrast, the motivating question behind A Curious Harvest is not “What do I want?” but “What do I have?” It is a cookbook, but there are no recipes. Instead, it is more like a choose-your-own-adventure story, more like an encyclopedia, a guide showing what you can do with what you’ve got. Each page illustrates a raw ingredient, and describes ways to cook it and how long, how to store it, what it looks like when it’s bad, and what other foods it goes well with. Additionally, there is an introduction describing my experiences cooking, dumpstering, and living communally, as well as detailed appendices with organized tables and cooking tips.
The book was designed in a way that encourages people to cultivate a deep relationship with their food. Ultimately, any cookbook is an accessory, an extra appendage to supplement the aesthetic of the cook. A well-developed food aesthetic is something that everyone needs to be healthy and well nourished, and it is not something a cookbook can impart, even a pretty one like A Curious Harvest. Food values, food aesthetics, must be gleaned through a lifetime of active engagement with the acts of growing, preparing and sharing food with one another. Ultimately, this is the message A Curious Harvest bears – Food is for cherishing. Food is for nurturing. And most of all, food is for sharing.