The Botanical Kitchen is the debut cookbook of Elly McCausland, successful food blogger and Guild of Food Writers Food Blog award winner. The Botanical Kitchen is her first book and won the Jane Grigson Trust Award 2019. With these credentials, I was eager to dive into the book.
The book opens with an introduction on the humble nutmeg and how this exotic spice has influenced cuisine across the planet. It’s so versatile that it is used not just in sweet and savoury dishes but also in drinks (tea, coffee, alcohol…), medicines, oils, fragrances and creams. This may seem an odd place for the book to begin but links back nicely to where it all began for Elly and her ‘Nutmegs Seven’ blog, which she started writing in 2010.
Elly writes about the simple, oft-forgotten or neglected ingredients that can transform a dish. These little things – be they fruits, spices or flowers – form the basis for the structure of the book. All in, there are seven chapters; each chapter begins with information and anecdotes about the main ingredients for the recipes, placing the ingredient in its wider context. This includes references to myths, history and famous literary works where the ingredient makes an appearance. Based on the cookbooks on our bookshelf, this is quite an unusual format; it makes what could so easily come across as boring reference material into content that is instead entertaining and memorable.
Which leads me to remind you never to judge book by its cover. The design for Botanical Kitchen is simple and traditional and doesn’t quite convey what’s inside e.g. passages on a fruit which looks like female genitalia and was the must-have, status-symbol fruit of 1655! Inside the book, not only is the text colourful, the photography is excellent too and should inspire even the laziest of cooks.
Of course, to really enjoy a cookbook, you have to try some of the recipes. Two popped out to me: Apple, goats’ cheese, honey and hazelnut tarts, and Bali banana pancakes. Both looked stunning but also easy to make. The recipes are straightforward to follow and clearly laid out in shortm easy-to-read paragraphs.
The Bali banana pancakes recipe is a mere four paragraphs long but took a couple of attempts to get the consistency of caramelised sugar right. However, eating the chef’s perks as I attempted to make these was worth trying more than once. I’ve never been to Bali, but if this is what the food is like, I’m there!
The apple, goats’ cheese, honey and hazelnut tarts were quick to make yet looked like I had slaved away for hours. These would be perfect as canapes or for a quick lunch. One of those “why haven’t I made this before?” recipes. This is also a recipe that can be tweaked with different ingredients to make it more savoury or sweet, according to what your taste buds crave that day.
For those of us who open up a recipe book to find out what they can make with a glut of apricots, or for ideas to use up that opened bag of walnuts, the index is usefully comprehensive; certainly, a huge plus for me. There is a book-load of inspiration here.
For what seems like a traditional book on the outside, The Botanical Kitchen has made me think more about how simply changing or adding a single ingredient can make a dish; tea isn’t just for drinking and fruits and flowers can enhance savoury dishes.
Recipes from The Botanical Kitchen
We have permission from Bloomsbury Books to share a couple of recipes with you from the book.
If you decide to buy this book after reading our content, please consider clicking through our affiliate link, located within the post and in the footnote at the end.
Kavey Eats was provided with a review copy of Elly McCausland’s The Botanical Kitchen by publisher Bloomsbury Books. Photography by Polly Webster. This book is currently available (at time of review) on Amazon UK for £18.52 (RRP £26). Book cover provided by publishers, all other images in this post by Emma Mykytyn.