The books of summer

Jennifer E. Beaver
Columnist

Visit any retail store, and the displays will try and convince you that summer is nearly over with bikinis on sale, school clothes front and center. But according to my calendar, summer still has two months to run. Still time to squeeze in some relaxed reading with feet up and iced beverage in hand.
So what am I reading this summer? Almost too much to list, but the three books I’ll mention here are favorites. The surprise is that none of them is a true gardening book. Yet I’m confident that those who find magic in growing things will find these books appealing for a number of different reasons.
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury tops my list. I’m not sure how I missed it when I was devouring all his other books during junior high and high school, but I did. My son and I are reading chapters to each other when time permits, and I’m savoring every second in Green Town, Illinois, the novel’s Midwestern setting. The year is 1928 and the season is summer. In true Bradbury fashion, every page is a sensory delight full of growing things and plant life– clover, leaf mold, apples, and, of course, dandelions. Here’s a sip: “Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue.” Read it. You will recapture the magic of being a kid.
Next up is something completely different– Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf. Written by a Brit, this is a true story of the men who shaped America– George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison– and their regard for and fascination with plants and farming. In between fighting battles and negotiating treaties, they collected plants from all over the world and experimented with them at their estates at Monticello, Mount Vernon and Montpelier. They believed that the young republic could only be truly free if it was self-sufficient, and that meant having the ability to grow its own food. As anyone with a backyard vegetable plot will tell you, that’s a concept that stands the test of time.
Last but not least is a cookbook, New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant. Moosewood is a world-renowned vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, New York, which for decades has nourished countless people from Cornell University and other lucky eaters. Many carnivores (hands up!) have Moosewood cookbooks on their shelves because the recipes make it easy and delicious to serve the occasional veggie meal. For gardeners with abundance, it’s a great resource. I recommend Tortino di Verdure (an Italian vegetable casserole), described like this: “Layered vegetables and cheese baked together create a lavish and colorful production, like a lusty Italian opera.” Mangia bene!

Jennifer E. Beaver, a Wrigley resident, is a master gardener and author of Container Gardening for California and Edible Gardening for California.

Garden Variety

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