Not quite a gardening manual, not really a cookbook, and certainly better illustrated than the Farmers’ Almanac, Heather Hardison’s beautifully designed Homegrown: Illustrated Bites From Your Garden to Your Table
is the Berkeley illustrator’s effort at exporting the California obsession with freshness and seasonality to people in the rest of the country who are interested in eating more home-grown produce but who find the execution daunting.
Aesthetically, Hardison’s background is in 18th- and 19th-century sign painting. She loves letters, and describes their look as “turn-of-the-century, but fresher.” The visuals also simplify matters greatly. Rather than bombarding readers with 43 recipes for, say, carrots, of which some 39 will probably never be tested out at home, the carrots section features a single recipe for curried carrot soup, easy enough for inexperienced home cooks to replicate. It’s preceded by a full-page illustration on the types of carrots and their preferred soil, plus a page-long tutorial on how to plant and harvest them.
Growing antsy? “Be patient,” Hardison reminds readers in a sidebar illustration, because carrots take “1-3 weeks to sprout.” Also, don’t plant them too closely, because “crowded carrots are crooked carrots.” (The image for that nugget of wisdom looks like the vegetable equivalent of a bear hug.)
The rest of the book is full of simple, brightly colored explanations: how to peel and seed a tomato, how to grow blueberries, how to trim leeks. Californians can benefit, too. After all, who among us hasn’t pulled a random, vaguely edible-looking item out of a CSA box we forgot to customize and thought, “What is this thing and what the hell do I do with it?”
Having moved to Berkeley from North Carolina in 2009, and begun her food blog, Illustrated Bites
, the following year, Hardison told SF Weekly
that she’d grown increasingly excited to learn where food comes from.
“I wanted this book to have a lot of process,” she said. “There’s so much interest right now in where food comes from. In North Carolina, there’s plenty of agriculture, but it’s tobacco and soybeans and cotton. I’d never seen artichokes growing, or Brussels sprouts growing. I love Southern food, but California has so much more freshness and variety.”
As for the borderline astrological illustrations that accompany the chapters on the different growing seasons, Hardison was interested in grounding newbie farmers in the very rhythm of the universe.
“I geeked out a little on them,” she admitted, laughing a little. “You know, the equinox, Pisces is in this part of the sky then. You kind of lose that connection when you’re just opening the box."