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To Boldly Grow by Tamar Haspel: Reviewed And Rated

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To Boldly Grow book cover

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2022, 272 pages, no photos or illustrations, hardbound

Tamar Haspel has written a most entertaining memoir of the past few decades during which she and her husband, Kevin Flaherty, made a pact that every dinner will have something that they have grown or caught.

This is quite a change of pace for Haspel, a James Beard award-winning food/science/politics columnist for the Washington Post which is to say, she doesn’t write recipes for the newspaper, she explains how food is made, the sciences behind its production, and how laws and people influence what we eat. If you want to know the truth about organic food or farm-raised salmon, she is the expert. And her answers will surprise you.

But this book is much more personal, and much more fun. Reading it is like sitting in their living room with a glass of their homemade dandelion wine and appetizer of fish that she caught and smoked yesterday served with grilled shiitakes on a toast points from a baguette she baked this morning. It is akin to books like Peter Mayle’s “A Year In Provence” chock full of anecdotes and mishaps laced heavily with self-deprecating humor. It is an easy read and one tale weaves neatly into the next.

She dons her latent Seinfeld when she tells us about her experiences learning to back her boat trailer: “And then there are the spectators. The rampies. They’re the guys (always guys) who just stand around waiting for you to {ef} up.” Or their ongoing battles with foxes who like chicken dinners.

But it is also educational. We learn a lot about gardening, building a chicken coop, fishing, foraging, scavenging, hunting, making salt, and growing mushrooms, with a smattering of relationship wisdom. It is all there in her tale of how they tried to build a device to remove feathers from turkeys with a malfunctioning washing machine. But Haspel is no Thoreau, in fact, she thinks the icon of self-sufficiency is a “self-important gasbag.”

If you harbor the fantasy of living off the land, Haspel and Flaherty are examples of Manhattanites who have pulled it off with help from friends and neighbors, trial and many errors. She redefines cooking from scratch as they learn to scratch a living from the sands of Cape Cod.

As a gardener, fisherman, and cook, I can vouch for the veracity of the lessons she learns and shares, although I wish she would read my book to improve her smoking and grilling techniques. But as a writer, I must confess I am jealous of her chutzpah and her way with words and bad puns.

Published On: 7/5/2022

  • Meathead - Founder and publisher of, Meathead is known as the site's Hedonism Evangelist and BBQ Whisperer. He is also the author of the New York Times Best Seller "Meathead, The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling", named one of the "100 Best Cookbooks of All Time" by Southern Living.


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