Book review: “To Boldly Grow”

You have a lot on your plate.

What, with the kids and school, getting back to normal, pent-up socializing, paying bills and yikes, those food prices! You’re wondering if maybe it’s time for that diet you’ve been saying you’ll go on, or some old-timey recipes from Great-Grandma. Or maybe you should read “To Boldly Grow” by Tamar Haspel and eat a little closer to home.

Shortly after Tamar Haspel married her husband, Kevin, he told her he wanted to plant a garden on the roof of their Manhattan apartment building. For weeks, they schlepped dirt and colorful containers skyward and that summer, they had the best tomatoes Haspel had ever tasted.

Consequently, when they bought their house and two acres on Cape Cod some time later, they both knew that gardening was a for-sure. In fact, Haspel suggested, why not try to eat “first-hand food” – dinner they didn’t buy from a store – every day for an entire year?

Immediately, there was a learning curve: they had to know what kind of soil they had in order to know what they could grow. Neighbors helped with that information and they taught Haspel about cold frames, which are often necessary in New England gardens. This satisfied her for awhile until she learned about perennial vegetables, which weren’t necessarily satisfying. The couple considered going organic, but the bugs won that battle until chickens arrived at the tiny farm. Eggs were perfect first-hand food; later, the chickens would be, too, but not until after a heartbreaking trial-and-error with fencing.

Haspel learned to trust ice, love fishing, and embrace the joys of “fishing it forward.” The couple taught themselves to catch lobster, grow mushrooms with old logs, make their own sea-salt, and to forage in nearby areas with high-level awareness of what was not safely edible. They bought some turkeys and began hunting venison. 

And then they built their own outdoor oven because “There is… a deep-seated satisfaction in taking food we harvested, cooking it in an oven we built, and feeding it to people we love.”

You can absolutely think of “To Boldly Grow” as a book filled with adventure. Undertaking new endeavors, after all, is not always for the faint of heart – even when those endeavors are as quiet as digging and fishing.

Consider it, too, as lighthearted reading: author Tamar Haspel has a great sense of humor mixed with her inner Indiana-Jones-in-the-garden and in that, there’s a lot of good-natured self-ribbing and an appealing open-mindedness for trying new things. But that’s not all. There’s seriousness in this book, and a number of pages full of helpful advice. For total novices who are unsure about raising their own vittles, or for readers who never thought they could grocery shop a few feet from their back deck, that’s very tantalizing information.

Whether your tomatoes are starting to bloom, or there are seedlings waiting patiently inside, this is a fun way to pass the time before harvesting it all. Find “To Boldly Grow” and put something different on your plate.

“To Boldly Grow: Finding Joy, Adventure, and Dinner in Your Own Backyard” by Tamar Haspel

c.2022, Putnam $26.00 272 pages