I quickly flicked through it and it didn't take more than a minute for me to realise that I had stumbled across something rather wonderful. Recipes for Swedish Summer Rye flavoured with caraway, anise and orange zest or and sourdough pancakes leapt off the page and there were beautiful squiggly line drawings of kitchens and cats and monks as well as clear illustrations of how to knead, stir and plait dough.
The best cookbooks illuminate and encourage whilst exhorting us to try something new. They have a tone that utterly convinces. I think it has something to do with knowledge acquired over time and an honest desire to share that knowledge. This one did all that. It is full of straightforward but delicious sounding recipes and a generous, life enhancing spirit that makes you feel that the bread will be good but life will be even better. It was written by Edward Espe Brown in 1970 and came out of the kitchens of America's first Zen Budhist Monastery in Monterey County, California, the Tassajara Zen Centre.
Each recipe comes with a pithy description (surprise, how can bread taste so good?, a killer, discovered by accident).
How can you not love a book that starts with the quote: "We need more cooks, not more cookbooks."
Brown goes on to say "A recipe doesn't belong to anyone. Given to me, I give it to you. Only a guide, a skeletal framework. You must fill in the flesh according to your nature and desire. Your life, your love will bring these words into full creation. This cannot be taught. You already know. So please cook, love, feel, create."
I've been baking sourdough bread one way for 12 years but with Brown's encouragement I have just tried his method (basically a wholewheat sponge followed by more flour and salt 12 hours later.)
I have lots of books I couldn't do without in the kitchen and I think this one might be joining their ranks.