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Book review: A Taste of the Unexpected

Book review: A Taste of the Unexpected
A Taste Of The Unexpected
Mark Diacomo
Quadrille Publishing
RRP £20
 
These days, even a cursory glance at the supermarket produce section reveals a number of spectacular fruits and vegetables, with dragonfruit, physalis and mooli making regular appearances at dinner parties from London to Loughborough. The exotic has truly become the commonplace.
 
But there’s a select group of fruit-and-veg devotees who are determined to push our expectations to the limit- fruit hunter Adam Leith Gollner, for example and, now, with his new book, Mark Diacomo, who aims to introduce the edible delights of  Blue honeysuckle, Japanese wineberries, and even Fuschia to the wider audience.
 
Diacomo earnt his stripes as River Cottage's Head Gardener. The scope and breadth of his knowledge is immediately apparent, and breathtaking in its amplitude. At first glance, the dense prose of 'A Taste Of The Unexpected' may seem a shade impenetrable- but it’ll hook you from the off.  
 
A book, perhaps, for the slight anorak, but surely none the worse for that. The world would benefit from a few more food books like this- less concerned with which vertiginous heels the glamorous young author has donned to make her sinful chocolate cake than with the wonder of the outcome of, perhaps, Egyptian Walking Onion soup.
 
Giacomo is every bit as physical a presence in the book as those pretty fillies, however- but here it’s as a knowledgeable auteur, visible solely through his flawlessly researched prose on crops as diverse as Daylilies and Carolina allspice. The reader is introduced succinctly to planning and planting a space for produce, allowing for restrictions on both space and time.
 
We’re then into the meaty stuff- or not, as the case may be. ‘Growing and Eating’ chapters cover variously tree- and soft-fruit, nuts, herbs and spices, beans and greens, leaves and flowers and ‘buried treasure’- Diacomo’s moniker for rooty items which include Oca- a pretty pink, South American tuber.
 
Each entry delves deeply into the world of the listed item- providing a fascinating potted history along with varietal, growing and harvesting  information. Eaters rest assured- there’s also plenty on how best to consume the very literal fruits of your labour. Preserve recipes like Autumn Olive jam and Medlar jelly mean the feast can extend all year round.
 
If your urge to foray into the unknown remains inexplicably unsated, Diacomo even proposes a list of further reading as part of the book's wonderfully comprehensive Directory. Whether amateur, enthusiast or obsessive, 'A Taste Of The Unexpected' provides more than a few nuggets of rather esoteric wisdom.
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23 November 2010
By: Zoe Perrett
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