Recipe for a Kinder Life (Annie Smithers, Thames & Hudson)
If you’ve had the good fortune to dine at Trentham’s du Fermier, where much of the food served is grown on chef/owner Annie Smithers’s own property, Babbington Park, in the central Victorian hamlet of Lyonville, you may well wonder how she does it. Her book will tell you this, and much more. No-nonsense chapter titles—Land, The Productive Garden, Buildings, Water, Creatures, The Weather—reflect Smithers’s unpretentious approach to life and art. While the mainly tiny black and white photos will leave you wanting more, they don’t distract from the text, because along with all her other talents, Smithers is an excellent writer. Whether discussing planting methods or the weather, Smithers imbues her work with wisdom and good humour, and she particularly shines when writing about animals, of which she is an inveterate collector and caretaker. Smithers discusses the paradox of trying not to kill anything on the property yet serving meat in her restaurant. It’s not something she’s resolved. The anguish of having to occasionally cull her roosters is palpable: ‘I then wipe the bird clean, inside and out, and swear I will never do that again.’ And throughout, of course, are recipes and ravishing food ideas that will change your life: roasting radishes (who knew?), a broad bean dip recipe, even how to cook your own dog biscuits. Smithers clearly paid her dues for her current idyllic situation. She sketches out her previous life, briefly mentioning mental health issues caused by the restaurant business’s perilous working conditions, on top of hard work and financial pressures over many years. But it paid off, and at 50 she even found love and domestic harmony in a blended family. Now Smithers is gifting some of her hard-won experience back to us.
Julia Taylor worked in trade publishing for many years. Read her interview with Annie Smithers here.