“Anise, basil, cinnamon, dill . . . ” So begins the alphabet as seen by Jerry Pallotta in The Spice Alphabet Book (Charlesbridge Publishing), a compendium of more than twenty-six herbs, spices, and other natural flavors. Full-page watercolors by Leslie Evans depict plants in their natural state and also in dried or powdered forms in the kitchen. Pre-readers can learn to recite the herb and spice names by looking at the pictures and clue letters on each page, leaving the rest of the text for an older sibling or adult to fill in.
On the anise page, Evans portrays a plant and one of its dried seeds, accompanied by a jar of mouth-watering pink anise drops, a tin of pastilles, and assorted other confections. On the basil page, we see bunches of fresh herbs set out at market and learn that an herb is “an edible green leaf that is used to season foods”. On the cinnamon page, we see pictures of pastries and ancient ships and learn that this spice was once considered more valuable than gold.
Pallotta’s historical and culinary information should keep both younger and older readers entertained, and also pique their curiosity about such letters as Q, X, and Z. What plants does he write about here? For a clue to one of them, consult your English-Aztec dictionary for the word for “chocolate”!
Thyme for Kids (White Oak Press), by the mother and daughter Leanna K. and Evangela Potts, is a do-it-yourself guide to growing and cooking herbs that comes complete with seeds. This spiral-bound book looks like a cookbook, but readers need to get busy several weeks before the cooking begins. The authors start from scratch—preparing the soil in which to grow the herbs to use in the recipes.
Small envelopes of six kinds of seeds are stapled to the pages of the “planting and harvesting” section. These include basil, chives, mint, nasturtium, salad burnet, and thyme. The recipe section presents a variety of foods that may be prepared with these herbs: mint chocolate malts, cream of nasturtium soup, Kangaroo Pouch sandwiches made with salad burnet leaves, and sour cream and chive topping for baked potatoes. A full range of snack and meal foods is presented, along with a kitchen glossary and useful tips for first-time cooks. There’s even a recipe for garlic-and-mint-flavored “canine cookies” for Fido.
Jean Craighead George, the author of numerous popular fiction books for upper-elementary- and middle-school-age readers, has also written a cookbook for young naturalists. In Acorn Pancakes, Dandelion Salad, and Other Wild Dishes , Dandelion Salad, and Other Wild Dishes (HarperCollins Children’s Books), she tells readers how to prepare many of the wild foods that characters from her novels might have enjoyed.
George begins by introducing a favorite outdoor cooking apparatus, the rock oven. Subsequent chapters focus on plants available during spring, summer, fall, and “all year round” (depending on where you live). In the spring section, dandelions are featured in eight recipes, including fritters, dandelion “coffee”, and “weedy lawn salad”. Readers in southern latitudes will be able to try Boiled Heart of Sabal Palmetto, while those living in the north can sip Washakapucka, or Labrador Tea. George is careful to give identifying information about each plant and its habitat, as well as its botanical name. Detailed black-and-white drawings of the plants by Walter Kessell are included.
Many of the recipes could easily be prepared while camping, but they have been written for modern kitchens: standard ingredients such as eggs, butter, and biscuit mix are used and oven temperatures provided. George makes it easy for young and old naturalists to enjoy tasting some of the wild foods from their backyards and beyond.