- Virginia Johnson
Beautiful in its design and content, Ashley English’s Handmade Gatherings offers splendid ideas for entertaining year-round and to intrigue all ages. She includes not only delicious recipes for earthy yet traditional foods, but she also finds crafty ways to feature the glories of each season.
For every time of year, there are specific suggestions for the kinds of parties that will make much of what is on offer. And for this author, the parties are not about the perfect table settings. They are instead gatherings of beloved family and friends, old and young, whether under starlight or sunshine or in a living room laid with evergreens.
For spring, she suggests, among other things, a party of Pollinating Ideas. As a beekeeper, such a plan came naturally to her, and, as with every chapter, there is an expansive, informative, and downright chatty introduction to the concept behind the party. Decorating ideas are general—and doable! For that one, she suggests bright colors, wildflower bouquets and hosting the party in a botanical garden or park. She also suggests that guests who so desire may assemble “pollinator seed packets” to take home to spread the practical beauty long after the party day is done.
Some recipes are included but far more are suggested, and, since the potluck-style party is encouraged, Ashley English also lists kinds of ingredients to suggest to your creative, cooking friends. But the ones she does include are delightful. Below is a recipe for Honey and Lavender Lemonade—just the thing to share with friends on a day filled with warmth:
You will need:
1 ½ cups honey
6 cups water
2 tablespoons dried lavender buds (or 3 tablespoons fresh)
1 ¾ cups lemon juice
Lemon slices for each glass
Lavender sprigs for each glass (optional)
Combine the honey and water in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat until almost boiling, stirring to dissolve the honey into the water. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in lavender buds, cover, and let stand for 1 hour. Strain the honey lavender syrup and discard the buds.
Pour the syrup into a large pitcher or beverage dispenser. Add the lemon juice and stir. For every gallon your pitcher or dispenser will hold, add 5 cups of cold water. Stir to fully combine. When ready to serve, add ice cubes, lemon slices, and, if desired, a few fresh or dried sprigs of lavender.
There is a bit of a trade-off in this book because with so many lush illustrations and interesting asides there is less space for, well, recipes. Compared to most cookbooks of its size, there are indeed far, far fewer. But cooks turn to books not always for hundreds of recipes at a go (there’s the Internet for that, isn’t there?) but more these days for inspiration, and Handmade Gatherings has that in spades… and seed packets.