Why buy it?
Throw almost everything currently on-trend in food right now and you have Cornersmith. The local cafe in Sydney’s Marrickville serves up truly local fare (a fair chunk of their produce, incredibly, comes from customers’ gardens, which they barter for coffee, meals or a jar of preserves) and doubles as a picklery and cooking school, instructing others in the time-honoured skills of jamming, fermenting and cheese-making (aka the ‘Nana Arts’). It’s green, it’s community, and most importantly, it’s real – wife and husband owners Alex Elliot-Howery and James Grant live and breathe what they preach, and were doing their thing before this all got hip.
Following a string of actually cookable Australian restaurant cookbooks (including Kepos St Kitchen’s Falafel for Breakfast) comes these guys’ debut and eponymous title. Like its predecessors, Cornersmith’s useability stems from the food on offer at the cafe/restaurant/picklery – fresh produce thrown together in delicious combos without all the fanfare. Stuff you could cook and preserve at home – with a little guidance.
Beautifully shot over a calendar year (with pics of Elliot-Howery and Grant foraging for produce and hard at work in the bustling cafe), Cornersmith takes readers through the seasons with vibrant breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert ideas, along with inventive pickles and preserves, from a springtime salad of fresh peas, broad beans, artichokes, asparagus and watercress to an enchanting autumnal chutney of pear, lemon and rosemary.
More than anything, Cornersmith espouses a style of cooking and eating that many of us yearn for today – food that's fresh from our veggie patches, when in season, and from the pantry reserves we’ve thoughtfully prepared throughout the year. The authors’ voices are warm, guiding, authoritative and inspiring, and their story – of just two regular people with a goal to eat right – proves how achievable it is. Timely reading and a practical guide.
Cookability Almost every ingredient list is concise and consists of fresh garden (or greengrocer) produce, a few herbs and spices, and maybe some meat or seafood, or bread of some kind (basically, it’d make Michael Pollan proud). As for the pickles, they’re straightforward too – there’s an informative section on preserving 101, then all you need are a few bottles, some vinegar and a bit of patience.
Must-cook recipe ‘Chop up’ is a more apt term than ‘cook’ for their delectable-looking summer salad of tart green tomatoes, dill and ricotta. “Although they’re just unripe red tomatoes, they’re crisp, firm and sharp, almost like a different vegetable,” the duo writes. “Sadly, they don’t get used that much and it’s unusual to see them in recipes.” We don’t need any more convincing. Second place goes to their semi-sweet, malt-flavoured whey caramel, made for pouring over ice-cream, puddings and thickshakes – ‘cause what better use of a by-product from cheesemaking than caramel?
Most surprising dish There are few outlandish dishes here (the most exotic being Lebanese-inspired spiced pork and veal with pomegranate syrup), but those not in the preserving-know may find pickled fruit, such as spiced pickled cumquat with cumin seeds, surprising. It’s standard course at Cornersmith and the resulting concoction is delicious in chicken stuffing or tossed through a salad, such as kohlrabi slaw, for which they also provide a recipe.
Kitchen wisdom Jaimee Edwards, Cornersmith’s resident fermenter, on her craft: “An unexpected bonus of making fermented foods is that they help re-build our connection with food, for they are dependent on us and demand our attention.” Hear hear. Combine that with fermented foods’ increased nutrient content, digestibility, probiotic bacteria and funky flavour, and these preserved numbers should be top of your DIY list.
Ideal for Cornersmith devotees, keen preservers, seasonal followers, produce lovers and keep-it-simple cooks.
Cook the book
Recipes and images from Cornersmith: Recipes from the Café and Picklery by Alex Elliott-Howery and James Grant (Murdoch Books, $49.99, hbk).