Book: A Tale of 12 Kitchens by Jake Tilson

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

I bought “A Tale of 12 Kitchens” by artist and designer Jake Tilson just over a year ago and have been trying to find a reason to write about it on the site ever since. The book isn’t particularly about gardening or cooking from garden fresh food, although it does have brief sections describing the author’s family food gardens and a section about homegrown herbs that I will describe later. Regardless, I’ve given up looking for a valid reason and have decided it fits, however loosely.

I initially bought the book to take with me on a train trip to Montreal. At the time this cookbook meets travelogue was the perfect accompaniment to a colourful Fall journey. I particularly love traveling by train and the ride between Toronto and Montreal is my ideal. It’s long enough to really dive into a book or spend ample time daydreaming through the window at beautiful passing landscapes but not so long that you can smell the scent of hell’s inner depths wafting from the toilets every time the door is opened, or that your knees start to ache forcing you into awkward positions in an attempt to get some relief and reminding you that you are old and could drop down dead at any minute. That’s what it was like that time we thought it might be fun and “productive” (I’ll read two books and finally finish that knit hat and by arrival I will have conquered the world!!) to take a 12 hour train trip to New York City. Or was it 14 hours? Or was it forever? Maybe I’m still on that train. Never. Again. So help me god. But the trip to Montreal is perfection. It has this way of deluding me into believing that train travel is the only way to go anywhere, period. I’d go once a season if I could afford it. Come to think of it, three seasons; I’ll skip winter. There’s a reason why I live in Toronto rather than beautiful Montreal, home of the brutal 1998 ice storm.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

When I opened the book to take pictures I was surprised to find leaves I had collected on Montreal’s mountain and tucked into the pages for safe keeping.

In my travel experiences food is always tied into the delight and adventure of discovering new sights and smells. Whenever I think about the places I have been I can’t help but think about the food I ate. I can often remember exactly what I ate and where I ate it. Cooking and eating, like gardening, happens within context and always comes with a story. I like to look at cookbooks but for the most part I only like the ones that say more than, “Make this dish. Here’s how.” One of the reasons I love this book is because Jake Tilson has managed to combine a cookbook with a travelogue in a way that is both instructional and inspirational. I feel like I am reading a story or am invited along for the journey and I can experience the book on that level without ever making the recipes. In fact, I have had this book for over a year and have bought two additional copies for friends but had not made a single recipe until just a few weeks ago. It’s like two books in one!

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

We tried the pancakes on page 104 and they turned out to be the best pancakes we have ever made, hands down. His idea to whip the egg whites first made “cakes” that were amazingly light and fluffy, especially since we used spelt flour, which often turns out flatter “cakes” in my experience. We ate the pancakes with black currant jam.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

How we eat and what we eat, especially while traveling is wrapped up inside all kinds of interesting packaging both literally and figuratively. One of my absolute favourite things to do when I visit any new place is go to both the local markets and the larger commercial supermarkets if they have one. I love to see what people eat, how they buy it, and how it is packaged. I often bring back cans of completely average products or candies and wrappers that are completely different than anything I have seen at home. As a graphic designer Tilson has a love for food packaging and has filled the book with labels and photos of food purchased around the world. Each page is a visual treat with all kinds of cookbook covers, shopping bags and packages I have never seen before.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

One of my favourite pages in the book (choosing one is no small feat) shows fresh herb packages that he designs and sends to friends from their family home in Tuscany. All of the herbs including bay leaves, juniper berries and fennel flowers are harvest on the property. Yum! I also give away some of my freshly grown herbs and do package them up, and while I have designed packages for pickles and tea sets I have never done so for the herbs. Looking at the book again has inspired me to go that extra mile with next year’s herb.

I can hardly wait.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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5 thoughts on “Book: A Tale of 12 Kitchens by Jake Tilson

  1. I love the pictures you took with the book, the green gingham is pretty.
    Thanks for sharing the book with us and not delaying it any longer. That’s an awesome book and I’ll have to investigate it, perhaps my library would have a copy…

  2. I’ve considered doing a patch of wheat, just for kicks, but I’ve always heard that grinding the wheat is more trouble than its worth. This summer I’m doing a small patch of strawberry corn, and I intend to grind some of it into some cornmeal to make funny colored cornbread. It’s strange that the more natural a grinder looks, the more it costs, so I think I’ll experiment with a coffee grinder I bought for $10 at the grocery store and have it at that. Ooh I cant wait! If only it weren’t so swampy and cool here in winter and everything rots rather than grows except lettuce and carrots and onions =P
    I would love to have some wheat pancakes made from my own homegrown wheat flour.
    But at least my strawberries have flowered up. I’ll have strawberry pancakes here in a few weeks.

  3. Better late than never – just wanted to let you know that I bought this book immediately upon reading your review last week and received it three days ago – three wonderful ddays which I have spent immersed in this book whenever chance permits. I feel like I’m traveling in time and space. Jake Tilson put together an adventure and a feast in one book. Thank you, Gayla.

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