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What My Book is All About

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My book has been out a month, and I am starting to feel like Sally Field at the Oscars: “You like me! You really like me!” Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast has been getting all sorts of fantastic reviews from outlets ranging from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader to the New York Times.

And Monday I learned that Amazon.com named HGC as one of its editors’ picks for Top 10 Cooking, Food & Wine Books of 2011 – so far. (Hoping to stay on that list by year’s end!) I am ranked No. 6, sandwiched between Gwyneth Paltrow and Claudia Roden. Pretty sweet company, I’d say. I am, frankly, shocked by it all.

Leave it to you, the readers of this space, to keep my head on straight.

A couple weeks ago I began receiving emails along the lines of: “Congrats on the book, and good for you! But since I read you all the time I guess I don’t need to buy it, right?” And last week I got an email from a regular reader who bought the book and sent me this note: “Wow, your book is not just a retread of your blog.” Gee, uh, thanks? No dude, it isn’t.

In fact, “Hunt, Gather, Cook” is about 80 percent new material — and I worked very hard to make it that way, to make sure that you, the readers of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, got something worthwhile by buying the book. I’ve heard about too many blog-to-book deals where the book is merely a conglomeration of the author’s blog posts, and I was determined not to do that.

After getting repeated emails from people thinking the book and the blog were the same, I started to get frustrated. Why were so many people thinking this? Then a wise friend asked me: “Well, have you gone out and told your blog readers?” Uh… actually, no.

So here I am, telling you exactly what “Hunt, Gather, Cook” is all about, albeit a month late. I’ll start by letting Sam Sifton of the New York Times describe it:

So here is a splendid introduction to the world of wild greens — dandelions and chicories; lamb’s quarters; nettles; wild mustards — all of it generally more nutritious than anything available for retail sale, and just as delicious as when Euell Gibbons first started hustling this line during the hippie years. There are suggestions about where to find and what to do with wild berries and fruits, with the fat hips that come off the rugosa roses you see in the sandy dunes of Rockaway Beach, with black walnuts and acorns and sassafras root. There are good fishing tips and better fish recipes, and a long treatise on the (few) joys of eating oyster toads.

And there is, too, a smart and level-headed primer on the hard and sometimes horrifying business of hunting animals for food — “the primary pursuit of humans,” Shaw writes, “for more than a million years.” Sensitive to the emotions and politics of those who might thrill to foraging mushrooms but express revulsion at the idea of taking the life of a deer or a duck or a bear, he writes clearly and with passion about what really happens when a person kills an animal to eat.

Where this space is a real-time log of my random experiments, recipes and adventures, Hunt, Gather, Cook is a coherent primer on finding, obtaining and cooking with wild foods. It is not a guidebook per se — the criticism I’ve received has been because HGC is not detailed enough as a guide. I know that, and it was a conscious decision. While I do write about where a plant or animal lives and how to identify it, I recognize that you will need a true guidebook as a companion. (I recommend Peterson’s A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants). What my book does is tell you what to look for — and what to do with it, once you have it.

Those of you who have asked me for instructions on how to make wine also get your answers in the book. I never detailed how I make my wines here on Hunter Angler Gardener Cook because, quite honestly, it’s pretty technical. But I’ve gone through everything step by step in HGC, and I am hoping it will inspire some of you to make beautiful wines from the fruits and flowers that live around you — remember, not all good wines are made from grapes.

Hunt, Gather, Cook book coverThe book is also possibly the first book in at least a generation aimed specifically at teaching adults to hunt and fish. Most such books are aimed at children. (I am happy to say that there will be another, more specific book coming out soon by my colleague Jackson Landers called The Beginner’s Guide to Hunting Deer for Food. I haven’t seen that book yet, but am eager to.) The reason I wrote this section in HGC is because I don’t go more than a week or two without receiving emails from readers asking me for help getting them into hunting or fishing –  the book answers all those questions in one place. Everything from what tackle to use for porgies and rock cod to tips on how to successfully hunt wild boar to how to gut a deer.

HGC is more than just a catalog of edible plants and animals, though. It is a place to discuss larger questions, questions many of us who do fish, forage or hunt take for granted. Why hunt? Why fish? Why bother with wild foods when we have supermarkets and farmer’s markets? Here on the blog I just do. If you come here, you take it for granted that wild food is worth pursuing. The book makes my case for why it is important — on a spiritual, emotional, even cellular level — for us all to recapture our connection to Nature’s bounty. And for those of you who already tap into this bounty, I make the case for why, say, a forager should hunt, or why a hunter should forage. Some of my favorite emails have been from hunters who read the book who are now eager to forage for wild plants.

So if you’re out there, reading this space and thinking there’s no real reason to buy the book, I hope I’ve changed your mind. And for those of you who have bought the book, know that I am eternally grateful. Thank you.

MORE ON ‘HUNT, GATHER, COOK’

14 responses to “What My Book is All About”

  1. Warner

    If it had been simply a re-compilation of your blog it would have been worth buying.

    It wasn’t which made it better.

  2. Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife

    No reflection on you at all, Hank, but the assumption that a blogger’s book will simply be a rehash of blog content would be on fairly safe ground. All such books that I’ve read to date follow that pattern. So don’t be too hard on the person who emailed you, but thanks for giving your readers the scoop. I’m glad to hear that you’re bucking that particular trend.

  3. J.R. Young

    HGC next to a vegetarian’s wife’s cookbook, there’s got be a joke in there somewhere. ;)

    My wife bogarted the book as soon as it arrived, and work has been consuming most of my time lately, I hope to free up soon and get to read it.

  4. Daniel

    Now, if only you could preview it on Amazon…

  5. E. Nassar

    Hank, I took HGC with me on our family vacation to Maui this past week and I can also confirm that it is a wonderful book to just read while on the beach or drinking my morning coffee. It also made me miss my kitchen slightly less and gave me a ton of ideas as to what to cook when I got back home. Thanks.

  6. Joshua

    What a dummy! Here you are sitting on all this content, and you go out and make NEW content for paper?

    What do you think this is about, content?! Puhlease.

    ; )

  7. Susan in the Boonies

    Thanks for letting us know! I’m a new reader to your blog, so it’s all new to me, but I am enjoying your work. :-D

  8. Denise

    I’m a new reader, still swooning over the blog! I’m thinking I’ll go into retreat with the book, some great wine and food and very gently introduce myself to the practices of hunting and fishing. I never thought that a book could help me start to understand something that’s been such a touchy issue for me. Thanks for all the effort you’ve put into this blog, and I’m sure for the book, too!

  9. Ken albala

    Well, I am making my way through it, and learning a LOT, and it is defintiely new material to me, despite being a regular reader here. Well done Hank.

  10. Mari

    I am glad to see you address several of my points of concern with the book. Mainly the fact that there are few recipes in the book that are not found here on this blog and that there is little guidebook information. I was also disappointed that there are no color pictures but I assumed that it was a conscious decision and that after I had been through the text thoroughly enough I would would realize why. Now I realize that the pictures are not in color because the book is not a guidebook, it makes sense.

    I wish there had been more pasta from-scratch recipes (my personal favorite of your recipe writing). As a Midwesterner the West Coast plants are of little use to me and this is a common issue I’ve had with many of the recently released foraging books; I simply do not live near a beach. As a 20+yr vegetarian I will not be reading more than the philosophical introductions to your hunting/fishing chapters, but I’m glad that you have written them. I wish all meat-eaters were so thoughtful about obtaining their meat.

  11. Kevin

    Just requested our city’s library order your book.

  12. Erika

    I just heard you’ll be on The Splendid Table tomorrow (July 3). i can’t wait!

  13. Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast with Hank Shaw « Slow Food Seattle

    [...] For Hank’s perspective on the book, check out this post. [...]

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