Every garden is a story, waiting to be told…
At the nursery she runs with her sisters on the New England coast, Sorrel Sparrow has honed her rare gift for nurturing plants and flowers. Now that reputation, and a stroke of good timing, lands Sorrel an unexpected opportunity: reviving a long-dormant Shakespearean garden on an English country estate.
Arriving at Kirkwood Hall, ancestral home of Sir Graham Kirkwood and his wife Stella, Sorrel is shocked by the desolate state of the walled garden. Generations have tried—and failed—to bring it back to glory. Sorrel senses heartbreak and betrayal here, perhaps even enchantment. Intrigued by the house’s history—especially the haunting tapestries that grace its walls—and increasingly drawn to Stella’s enigmatic brother, Sorrel sets to work. And though she knows her true home is across the sea with her sisters, instinct tells her that the English garden’s destiny is entwined with her own, if she can only unravel its secrets…
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (April 4, 2017)
Publisher: William Morrow (April 4, 2017)
"Hiraeth: a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was: the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past."
The Forbidden Garden had me with the above epigraph. I have always believed the old adage, "you can't go home again"--at least not expecting it to be the same home that you left. Sorrell Sparrow hasn't left home quite yet when we meet her at the beginning of the book, but with some traumatic events that have occurred at the Sparrow family home and nursery in New England and her sisters both finding love, she hasn't felt at home lately. This makes the letter she receives from Sir Graham Kirkwood, offering her a professional opportunity to spend six weeks resurrecting the Shakespearean garden on the Kirkwood estate outside of London an opportunity to find her wings and she sets off on an adventure. It turns out that the garden is a disaster, there are dark secrets being kept at the manor along with a potential curse--but there is also a new group of friends, a potential love interest, and perhaps more than a little magic in the works.
The Forbidden Garden is a lovely book from the beautiful garden descriptions (it's strange since I don't have any kind of green thumb but gardens and novels with gardens always fascinate me) to all of the detailed food descriptions, making it a book I can easily curl up and get lost in. Ellen Herrick has a way of describing things that had me smelling the sweet peas and lavender and tasting the delicious bounty of fruits and vegetables in my mind. Not a book to read on an empty stomach! I took over three pages of food notes, so I am putting it on my foodie fiction shelf. The magical realism is woven into the story well--both the garden's magic and the magical gifts that Sorrel and her sisters seem to have. I like books where the magic is there but not too the point where it is too unbelievable. Sorrel is a likable character, as are the supporting characters--the Kirkwoods and their friends and family--even when they are not behaving at their best. My only real disappointment is that although I knew that Herrick had a previous book, The Sparrow Sisters, I for some reason didn't pay attention enough to realize that this book picks up where that one leaves off. It's a pet peeve of mine to read things out of order so I usually avoid it--but it's my own fault. I actually have The Sparrow Sisters downloaded on my Kindle to read but The Forbidden Garden was a bit late to arrive and by the time I figured out that reading the first book before The Forbidden Garden would make me happier, I didn't have the time. There is enough background given by the author that you have the gist of what happened to the sisters in the previous book, but that kind of bummed me out as now I know the outcome before I read that one. Anyway, all of my bookish OCD issues and need for order aside, it's a wonderful story that I recommend if you like stories set in the English country side, mysterious gardens, delicious food, and a little magic and mystery thrown in--I would just make sure to read The Sparrow Sisters first.
Author Notes: Ellen Herrick was a publishing professional in New York City until she and her husband moved to London for a brief stint; they returned nearly twenty years later with three children (her own, it must be said). She now divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a small town on Cape Cod very much like Granite Point.
Find out more about Ellen at her website and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
There is really no end to the food inspiration in this book--all lovingly and deliciously described. Since I took three pages of notes to use in deciding on a book-inspired dish, I will just share some of the highlights rather than recount it all. There were mentions of both the Sparrow sister's bounty and all of the food produced on the Kirkland estate, including: all manner of fruits and vegetables like early stalks of hardy green and white asparagus, pears, cherries and apples for Nettie Sparrow's tarts, honeycomb and damson plum jam, fields of strawberries and edible flowers, beds of tomato, green leaf lettuce, spinach, and arugula, a basket of root vegetables to roast under a chicken, wonderful butter, cream and cheeses from the Kirkland's goats, and home-baked breads. There was a dinner including a bowl of steaming, lemony artichokes to be dipped in butter, a lunch of bread, Camembert, leftover lamb with garlic and rosemary, spicy arugula, green apples and caramel shortbread, a delectable shepherd's pie, a take-away dinner of butter chicken, balti, dahl, and naan, a basket of sugar snap peas, a Citron Pressé with fresh lavender, assorted pastries and éclairs, raspberry clafouti, Coq au vin with white wine instead of red, and an outdoor celebratory lunch of bowls of strawberries, frosty buckets of champagne, iced platters of salmon and dill, sliced cold flank steak, "a salad composed of all the kitchen garden's earth-bound magic," and a tiered cake stand with "scores of macarons--pistachio, chocolate, raspberry and the more exotic lavender and vanilla, thyme and honey, rose and tea, each topped with the corresponding herb or flower," zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella and salty anchovies, and Croque Madame sandwiches.
Rather than a specific dish in the book, I took my inspiration from Sorrel herself, along with some of the green garden bounty mentioned in the book. My local grocery has been carrying bags of locally-grown sorrel lately and that keeps tempting me to cook with this herb and it's lemony, sour-ish flavor. There were several mentions of asparagus--one of my favorite vegetables, and the perfect way to welcome spring. I have been craving risotto lately and thought it would be fun to make an asparagus risotto and add some pesto made from sorrel. I decided to add spinach to the pesto for extra nutrients and to mellow out the sorrel's flavor just a bit. It turned out to be perfectly lovely and I think it captures the essence of this book.
Asparagus Risotto with Sorrel-Spinach Pesto
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
6 cups of good, well-seasoned vegetable of chicken stock
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups aborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and spears cut into thirds (about 2-inch lengths)
1/2 cup Sorrel-Spinach Pesto (recipe below), or to taste
1/3 cup freshly-grated Parmesan + extra to serve
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat broth in a saucepan, bringing it to a simmer and keep it at a low simmer.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or saucepan. Add the shallots and a pinch of salt and cook gently until the shallots start to get tender (about 3-4 minutes.) Add the garlic and the aborio rice and stir so that the oil coats the rice grains. Once the rice begins to crackle, add the wine and stir until it is absorbed and no longer visible.
Begin to add the simmering stock, a ladle (about 1/2 cup or so) at a time. Watch your heat to ensure the stock bubbles, but not too quickly and stir until it is just about absorbed. Add the next ladle of stock and repeat the process, adding each ladle and stirring (often--so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan) until the rice is almost dry.
After about 10-12 minutes, add the asparagus pieces and continue to add stock and stir for another 10 to 15 minutes--until asparagus is tender crisp and rice is cooked through but not mushy. Once it has reached that consistency, add another ladle of stock to the rice and stir in the pesto. Allow the rice to mostly absorb the liquid, then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Parmesan. The risotto should be creamy, so stir in a bit more stock if it isn't. Taste for seasoning--if your stock is well-seasoned it shouldn't need much salt, but add if needed and add freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Serve as soon as possible in shallow bowls, along with extra Parmesan cheese to garnish. Enjoy!
Pesto Note: This makes more pesto than you need so you can reduce the recipe or store in an airtight container in the fridge (for a few days) or the freezer (up to six months) with a thin layer of olive oil over the top of the pesto.
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes About 2-ish cups of Pesto)
2 cups loosely-packed sorrel leaves, chopped
2 cups loosely-packed spinach leaves, chopped
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or nut of choice)
2 Tbsp lemon juice + zest of 1 lemon
about 1/2 cup olive oil, more or less as needed
1/3 cup shredded fresh parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Put sorrel leaves, spinach, walnuts, lemon juice and zest and about 1/2 the olive oil into a food processor and process until blended but still a bit coarse. Add parmesan and salt and pepper and process until smooth, drizzling in the remaining olive oil (add more if needed) until the pesto is mostly smooth and creamy. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice as needed.
Notes/Results: This made such a yummy risotto--creamy, fresh and green and with a wonderful flavor--rich but bright from the lemony sorrel. I believe that you can pesto any herb and/or herb and greens combination and it is fun to experiment with different combinations. If you wanted to make this dish vegan, you could leave out the cheese and add a bit more of the nuts to give it a similar texture and quality. If you have nut allergies, you could replace the walnuts with sunflower or pumpkin seeds. You could sub in another green for the spinach and if you can't find sorrel, you could just use spinach or kale with some arugula and lemon juice. You could also sub in a different veggie like beans, peas, artichoke hearts in place of the asparagus. So many options! I however remain very happy with this one and intend on eating up my leftovers (maybe an egg on top?) and using the extra pesto (I can never make just a little bit of pesto!) ;-) on eggs, avocado toast and pasta. I would happily make this again.
This book is so food filled that I am linking it up with Foodie Reads 2017 as my third entry. You can check out the April Foodies Read linkup, hosted by Heather at Based on a True Story, to see what everyone is reading this month.
I'm also linking this post up to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
Note: A review copy of the "The Forbidden Garden" was provided to me by the publisher, Harper Collins, and TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.