On Thursday night I went to a lovely party at Tart, on the Gloucester Road, to celebrate the publication of A Good Egg — A Year of Recipes From an Urban Hen-Keeper.
Genevieve Taylor is the hen-keeper of the title, and her book is a charming and inspiring diary of a year in her kitchen, her garden and her hen-house. When not tending her hens, she is also a very talented food stylist and cook (you’ve doubtless been inspired by something she has created without realising it, as her work has appeared in many magazines and ad campaigns), and the book grew from Genevieve’s blog, The Urban Kitchen, which she started when her first batch of chickens arrived and surprised them all with their dedicated laying: 3-4 eggs a day, every day, all year. That’s a lot of eggs.
But Genevieve is clear that A Good Egg is not an egg cookery bible (neither is it a how-to for prospective hen-keepers), explaining that it’s “a seasonal diary of all that I did with my eggs, and the food that I grew and gathered to eat alongside them.” In fact it is Genevieve’s passion for seasonality that is at the heart of the book, informing her writing as well as her recipes. A point she proved with a lovely reading from the 14th March which was all about wild garlic; as she read we were treated to slices of wild garlic flamiche (the wild garlic had been gathered locally, that morning), followed by mini mocha eclairs and tiny rhubarb pavlovas. Delicious.
And the recipes — nine or ten for each month — despite coming from the kitchen of a very talented cook, are by no means complicated or fussy; rather they are dishes designed for busy family life: delicious, wholesome and speedy. Of course the temptation is to say “Pah!” to seasonality and leap ahead with the help of the supermarket — which in the case of Crisp cannellini bean and Courgette Fritters is exactly what I intend to do. Other recipes to whet your appetite include a Peach and Almond cake with lavender syrup; English Nicoise of Smoked Trout, Jersey Royals and Asparagus; Courgette and Lime muffins; Broad bean, Feta and Mint Omelette… I could go on… and on!
The book is a rather beautiful object in its own right — a Tiffany-blue-green cloth cover, with an (egg yolk?) yellow ribbon for marking favourite pages — illustrated throughout with wonderful, hunger-inducing photographs, taken by Bristol-based photographer, Jason Ingram (his blog is over there to the right of the screen and well worth exploring).
This last image I include, because it sums up for me, Genevieve’s un-fussy, straightforward approach to cooking: for who hasn’t failed on the planning-ahead at some point? I am regularly caught out by the dastardly line, hidden in many a recipe, which runs something like “… and now leave in the fridge for 12 hours, preferably 24.” No! No! No! My friends are arriving in four hours’ time, not tomorrow, goddammit! Though I must stress, this particular recipe does not offer a clever route around the protracted process of making a Christmas Pudding. It’s just that I liked her admission that tradition and rules don’t dominate her kitchen or her recipes — in this case it’s her failure to make the Christmas pud on Stir Up Sunday. Her Carbonara with cavolo nero is probably a better example, not least because she describes it as “inauthentic in the extreme,” though it sounds heavenly.
And finally, as I have already said, although A Good Egg is not a guide to keeping chickens, be warned, it will certainly tempt you to have a go. Last night, as I thumbed through my copy, I found myself considering all manner of bizarre constructions — tree house!? — in order to add a chicken or two to our household even though I know our garden is far too small.