Jessica Seaton's new book, Gather Cook Feast, celebrates the connection between the food that we eat and the land on which we live in over 120 simple, seasonal and nourishing recipes. It is our co-founder's first solo project and combines her love of food, cooking and landscape.
Why did you decide to write a recipe book? It was a strange and not at all obvious journey. The idea was first given life during long walks with Jamie – if we were to do a book what would it be? Our discussion always ended up around celebrating the world we have seen while working on TOAST shoots, and that idea always meant food as an expression of place for me. Later this germ of an idea became Gather Cook Feast.
Who taught you to cook? My mother taught me to love food, but I also had a domestic science teacher at secondary school that taught me in a more structured way. We took open baskets to school covered with elasticated gingham tops to bring home our offerings. I still remember the humiliation in being told I was too ambitious in my choice of what to cook for a free-choice class (it was an American cheesecake, frowned upon for being too expensive to make). But her ways of speaking about food are with me still – to knead dough until it is ‘like a baby’s bottom’ and her mantra for baking ‘light your oven, line your tin, wash your hands and then begin’. I love them!
How does each recipe come to fruition? Is it a slow trial and error? The book started as a large and broad download of ideas onto a big piece of paper, but then came the real hard work. You start with an idea in your head for each recipe, then research ways to achieve it, then cook each recipe up to three times until it performs as you had imagined, in taste, look and feel. Then Anna (my collaborator) and I swapped recipes with each other and cooked them again and made tweaks and adjustments until we were both happy.
(Main image, Crayfish with Wild Garlic Butter & Lovage Vodka. Previous, Hedgerow Pudding)
You like to create plates that ‘feel like a place’, what do you mean by this? I started with the idea that the food should not only contain ingredients that came from a particular landscape, but also that it should, in some indefinable way, feel like that place. Our experience of food is coloured by associations – the briny feel of an oyster could be felt as a joyous essence of sea; or the earthy woods-y taste of mushrooms may remind one of an experience of deep forest. But broader than that, I made associations of type of taste – associating salt, lemon and pickled things with the sharp, crisp feeling of the sea. It’s those looser associations that are evoked by the words at the beginning of each chapter. This is such an interesting and stimulating area: how to create the sense of place in food. I’m continuing to explore this whole idea.
What is the landscape of your home and what food can you find there? Rolling hills, fast rocky rivers, woods and fields. And a little further afield, coast. And for food the list is endless: mushrooms, sewin, cockles, brilliantly raised meat, great cheeses, well sourced fish, laver bread, salt marsh lamb, wild garlic, venison…. On and on! Many of the ingredients used in the books could be sourced from near where we live.
Why do you think so many of us are increasingly drawn to the wild? Some of us love the wild and some of us love the city. It’s a complicated picture. I do think urban life is rich in social, cultural and material stimulation but poorer in connecting us to the reality of the planet we inhabit. You rarely see the sun on the horizon or the stars in the sky. Albert Camus felt that it was only in the wild that man felt his own humanity. In the power of the city some of us may be tempted to feel like gods – but we are not.
(Laver & Oatmeal Pancakes with Asparagus & Poached Egg)
Which dish pleases you most? There are so many! I have a photocopied paper version of the book at home and I am constantly getting it out to cook from. But if pressed - I love the chicken with summer vegetables; the laver and oatmeal pancakes and the blood oranges and rhubarb.
A personally signed copy of Gather Cook Feast (£26) is available to buy here and in stores.