Printed a Decade Ago, Now With Increased Relevance

March 3, 2022

Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors and Why They Matter by David Buchanan is subtitled “Restoring Diversity to Our Fields, Markets and Tables.” This is a book relevant to landscapers who can infuse the goals of a healthy garden or landscape within the vision of growing healthy food.

The immediate takeaway is how the book connects our current trend in thinking about container gardens, including some edibles interspersed with the coleus and petunias. There’s a lot of color and texture to be seen in the ways the vegetables grow and produce their bounty in a container garden, usually growing much taller than the colorful flowers chosen for seasonal interest. With so many creative ways to include a trellis or a “found object” to add height and dimension to a container garden, it’s possible to really make a statement with the plants chosen for a container – whether it’s located on a back patio or a front entryway!

For NHLA members and guests who attended the summer Twilight Meeting arranged by Mike Barwell at the Canterbury Shaker Village and featuring Jeremy DeLisle, UNH Cooperative Extension, this book might offer a strong appeal after learning about the heritage apples and the restorative pruning project in the Shaker Village remaining orchard specimen trees. For anyone interested in great flavors, or reminiscing about how great fresh vegetables taste as we’re blanketed with frost and snow this time of year, or going back further in memories of apples or peaches on a relative’s farm visited as a child, this book will kindle a deep interest in what it means to be a heritage apple or fruits pre-pesticide use. Thinking back on fruits we enjoyed as a kid, we might really focus on how they were not necessarily uniform in size or shape, since machine harvesting had not yet demanded those characteristics.

This book is also a page-after-page, chapter-after-chapter fascinating conglomeration of facts and intrigue. Buchanan travels far and wide to learn about the diversity in our familiar fruits and vegetables, with a description early in the book of his trip to Pullman, WA, to the USDA Western Regional Plant Introduction Station which is a gene bank for basic crops gathered from around the world. Reading this chapter, “Seeds of an Idea,” led me to think of the various shapes and sizes and even colors of beans I have seen in different regions of the US, or in different countries. Imagining what plant specialists and agro-specialists think about the climate affecting plant growth and natural mutations in response to climate and growing conditions, leads to a lot of intrigue about how to prepare for those changes and provide food for a growing population.

Not to spoil a big surprise that came straight at me as I read the book, I hope you’ll be as impressed when you read about Buchanan’s visit to Portsmouth, NH, to visit Evan Mallet’s Black Trumpet Bistro bar and restaurant. With an increased appreciation for local foods, and now the Slow Food movement, the connections this book can make with the landscape profession becomes evident. On the smallest scale, doing what we can to help everyone no matter what property they own or call home, there’s an opportunity to grow food – to realize the health benefits we have heard more about during the pandemic, and to feel the sense of accomplishment knowing something in the salad or salsa was from your own work and attentiveness to what that plant needed!
David Buchanan raises our awareness of the importance of the heirloom fruits and vegetables when he writes about the Slow Food International Foundation for Biodiversity, based in Italy. With a focus on economic viability and commercial value, that might be the strongest gateway to seed-saving and promoting the original shapes, colors and most of all, flavors of the vegetables and fruits they consider including.

There’s even an overtone throughout much of this book about economic and social justice and accessibility to fresh fruit and vegetables, with a strong connection to how we think of food production and where there’s an intersection between manual labor and machine harvesting. Environmental considerations are woven through the book, no surprise, and for many readers, you’ll remember when strawberries were a seasonal treat available only during a particular window of the calendar year and how research (although well-meaning) found ways to store, freeze, and market strawberries for use throughout the year. Now, there are more conversations about “real strawberry flavor” and uses of frozen strawberries are for many more types of recipes than on a homemade shortcake or biscuit with real whipped cream.

Again, that’s a connection landscapers can make between topics in this book and the work done throughout the year for clients to realize the role their lawns and gardens can play in the overall ecological health of their neighborhoods and for the planet.

Chapters cover David Buchanan’s experiences with hoop houses, greenhouses, and cold frames and what veggies are appropriate for each growing environment. Reading this book kindled an interest for me in learning more about the heritage flavors I could appreciate from different peppers, for instance, but that may have been influenced by the late January snowstorm.

You can take up this book for a quiet winter read, and not focus on the actions you can take with clients to encourage biodiversity in their gardening decisions. His writing style is very conversational, and his reflections feel accurate and not enhanced by being overly sentimental. He writes with a factual approach, based on his own rich and varied experiences. I think it’s a particularly satisfying book to read since he is now focused on his working farm outside of Portland, ME, with a connection to a cidery, so the book felt relevant to me with a similar growing region and a definite interest in cider apples!

I recommend this book for these reasons: information to share as you plan spring and summer gardens for clients; including biodiversity and edibles with the plant choices; and encouraging seeking out original plant species for the area. I can also recommend this book for a relaxing read, to enjoy learning Buchanan’s trajectory from Princeton to the Pacific Northwest and then to Maine. With adventures in plants, food, and growing things, it’s easy to identify goals to restore a healthy mindset about our expectations for our gardens and landscapes.

— by Cris Blackstone, NHCLP