The Modern Peasant - a review

Are you struggling with your Christmas present list?  If you’re looking for an interesting, original cookbook, don’t be seduced by the plethora of celebrity-led TV cookbooks.  Try instead, to follow the trails that lead to the quiet, innovative writers who often shape how others write and cook.

Take The Modern Peasant, Adventures in City Food by Jojo Tulloh (Chatto & Windus), which was published in May 2013. This is the perfect present for dreamy, idealistic food lovers, especially if they like quirky illustrations, literary quotes and a proper bibliography.

This is Jojo Tulloh’s second book.  Her first, East End Paradise, was focussed around stories and recipes from her inner city allotment.  The Modern Peasant charts Tulloh’s thoughts on how city dwellers, like her, can become more self-sufficient. She covers everything from making your own yoghurt to keeping urban bees.  There are chapters on baking, fermentation (think home-made ricotta, kimchi and ginger beer), foraging and different methods of preserving including pickling and smoking. 

Some chapters such as Planted, and Reared, illustrate the dynamic nature of London.  The former discusses the growing trend in community gardening from micro-plots to drop-off veg bags.  The latter tackles the relevance of understanding what it means to kill and butcher an animal.  Tulloh includes a description of the surreal experience of listening to a concert expressing a pig’s life, death and consumption at Café Oto in Dalston in East London, before being served a porcine feast. 

Every chapter includes recipes, which range from how to make faggots and sausages in Reared, to walnut and nestle pesto, and spring soup of Jerusalem artichokes, lentils and dandelions in Foraged.

It’s fitting that another influential book that you won’t find in many bookshops, namely, Honey from a Weed by Patience Gray (Prospect Books, 1986) was the inspiration behind this book. References to Honey from a Weed are woven into the text, and a chapter is dedicated to Gray’s recipes.

I should perhaps add that this is not a guilt-inducing book.  Quite the reverse, it is a book that advocates small steps to create a better life. It will inspire the recipient to explore new foodie horizons. 


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