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Honey from a Weed

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This book is perhaps the jewel in Prospect’s crown. Within a few months of its first appearance in 1986 it was hailed as a modern classic. Fiona MacCarthy wrote in The Times that, ‘the book is a large and grandiose life history, a passionate narrative of extremes of experience.’ Angela Carter remarked that ‘it was less a cookery book that a summing-up of the genre of the late-modern British cookery book.’ The work has attracted a cult following in the United States, where passages have been read out at great length on the radio; and it has been anthologized by Paul Levy in The Penguin Book of Food and Drink. It was given a special award by the André Simon Book Prize committee in 1987. Currently, we publish the book in paperback, with the original drawings by Corinna Sargood and the same text in the same generous format of the original hardback. The beautiful original cover is being still being used, the goddess is Malaria, the goddess of honey from which the book takes its title. This edition is available in both Britain and the USA. Although more than a cookery book – being a musing on a life lived on the shores of the Mediterranean, particularly wherever marble suitable for sculpture can be found – it contains many vibrant and useful recipes, making it a bible for lover of Mediterranean food. Fish, wild plants, game and tomatoes are just some of the foodstuffs.

Published: Oct 1, 2009

Section Chapter Authors
Introduction and Maps Patience Gray
Foreword John Thorne
Chapter 1
Fire Patience Gray
Chapter 2
Pots and Pans Patience Gray
Chapter 3
My Kitchens Patience Gray
Chapter 4
Chopping and Pounding Patience Gray
Chapter 5
The Workplace Patience Gray
Chapter 6
La Merenda Patience Gray
Chapter 7
Fasting on Naxos Patience Gray
Chapter 8
Beans, Peas and Rustic Soups Patience Gray
Chapter 9
Cantarem La Vida Patience Gray
Chapter 10
Potato and Egg Dishes Patience Gray
Chapter 11
The Guardian of the Temple Patience Gray
Chapter 12
Past'asciutta and Pasta in Brodo Patience Gray
Chapter 13
Homage to a Classic Cook Patience Gray
Chapter 14
Fish, Shellfish, Crustaceans; Smoked and Salt Fish Patience Gray
Chapter 15
Apropos of a Salt Herring Patience Gray
Chapter 16
Food Gathering Patience Gray
Chapter 17
La Piazetta Patience Gray
Chapter 18
Vegetable Heritage Patience Gray
Chapter 19
Castelpoggio Patience Gray
Chapter 20
Edible Weeds Patience Gray
Chapter 21
Fungi & Michelangelo Patience Gray
Chapter 22
Assaulting the Language Barrier Patience Gray
Chapter 23
Two Kinds of Spirit Patience Gray
Chapter 24
La Polenta Patience Gray
Chapter 25
Reflections in a Winter Landscape Patience Gray
Chapter 26
Some Products of the Pig Patience Gray
Chapter 27
Furred & Feathered Holocausts Patience Gray
Chapter 28
Boar, Hare, Fox, Pheasant, Partridge, Pigeon Patience Gray
Chapter 29
Feasting Patience Gray
Chapter 30
Quail, Rabbit, Guinea Fowl, Turkey, Chicken Patience Gray
Chapter 31
Looking for a Workplace Patience Gray
Chapter 32
Calf, Cow, Ox, Horse, Buffalo Patience Gray
Chapter 33
Prospero's Feast Patience Gray
Chapter 34
Lamb and Kid Patience Gray
Chapter 35
Pasticceria and the Apulian Baroque Patience Gray
Chapter 36
A Few Sweets Patience Gray
Chapter 37
An Apulian Bachelor Patience Gray
Chapter 38
Preserves Patience Gray
Chapter 39
The Olive Field Patience Gray
Chapter 40
A Few Conserves Patience Gray
Chapter 41
A Parting Salvo Patience Gray
Chapter 42
Some Flower Buds, Leaves, Seeds, Pods, Fruits Patience Gray


Years before I ever stepped foot in Rome or the Chianti Valley, I traveled there by reading cookbooks… When I read Honey From a Weed, I sopped up the flavors of Patience Gray’s tales of cooking off the land while chasing marble across the Mediterranean with her sculptor beau. From a handful of single-subject books I still treasure, I spent hours learning about the regional differences in pasta sauces and the individual histories of dozens, if not hundreds, of pasta shapes I hoped to one day taste. I grew to love the hot-blooded, tradition-protecting Italian culinary sensibility I got to know through these books — so much so that I learned the language and eventually moved to the country.
Samin Nosrat, The New York Times, October 28th 2020

As we move into an increasingly uncertain future – a report by leading academics recently suggested that Britain is “sleepwalking” into post-Brexit food insecurity – the message of Honey From a Weed, by turns ascetic and celebratory, may come to seem more powerful still. When she wrote it, Gray knew that she was recording the past, rescuing “a few strands” from a former way of life like some social anthropologist out in the field. What she can’t have known then is that her book would also be shot through with a pungent taste of the future.
Sheila Dillon, The Daily Mail, August 20th 2017

Honey From a Weed is packed with surprising little dishes so seductive it’s easy to forget how affordable they are: spring peas simmered with sliced new onions, fresh mint and olive oil; mussels stuffed with garlicky Parmesan breadcrumbs; spaghetti tossed with anchovies, preserved chillies, a bit of tomato sauce and plenty of olive oil and butter. But it’s the life lessons Ms. Gray teaches along with her kitchen craft that make Honey From a Weed the godmother of good-value cookbooks.
Along with recipes that feature shockingly short ingredient lists, the author chronicles her contentment with eating a plate of simply cooked vegetables and very little else for lunch or dinner. Because out-of-season, non-local produce simply didn’t exist in the places she lived, she shares ideas for feasting on the seasonal foods that are plentiful and, yes, cheapest at any given moment in the year. “A passion for youth and freshness, for grasping what the season has to give at the precise moment: This lends an ardour to daily living and eating,” she writes. And her primitive pantry demonstrates just how little you need to buy to embellish your food, when a trickle of good olive oil, a thread of wine vinegar or a sprinkle of flaky salt can make most anything taste better.
Adina Steiman, The Wall Street Journal, March 2018

One of my pleasures in lockdown has been to spend time with my cookery books. I revisited Patience Gray’s Honey from a Weed and it taught me that my failed turnips would at least yield the boiled tops — remarkably good when doused in olive oil and dressed with a little chilli and a few anchovies. This led me to return to the obscure figure of Irving Davis, Gray’s mentor, whose A Catalan Cookery Book was put together from various notes the author had made.
Rowley Leigh, Financial Times, July 2020

Honey from a Weed is the writings of a woman who followed her man, the sculptor Norman Mommens who moved them to the Mediterranean in search of marble. In endless small steps, Patience Gray turned her back on a life in London as a journalist – she was women’s page editor of The Observer – before settling finally in a farm house in Apulia, southern Italy… The recipes are beautiful and even the alarming recipe for cooking a male fox shot in cold winter months shows humour in the rigorous personality of the author. I cook several recipes still – a dish of rabbit and prunes and a green vegetable puree amongst others. But it is the conjuring of time and place that enthrals the reader.
Jeremey Lee, Quo Vadis

Cookbooks are like novels that “leave out all the other stuff,” Laurie Colwin once remarked. “There are many cookbooks by my bedside, with all the little pages turned down.” The cookbook that’s been sitting at my bedside recently is “Honey from a Weed,” by Patience Gray. First published in 1986, it documents the years in the sixties and seventies that Gray spent traversing the Mediterranean with her partner, a sculptor, in pursuit of marble. Their circumstances were such that a two-burner gas stove qualified as a luxury; outside the neolithic dwelling they occupied on Naxos, Gray stewed pots of food over driftwood and twigs. “This was ideal for summer,” she writes. “As the sea was at the door, I was able to light a fire, start the pot with its contents cooking, plunge into the sea at mid-day and by the time I had swum across the bay and back, the lunch was ready and the fire a heap of ashes. The cool of the morning—the sea rose at 5 am—was thus kept free for working.” Gray’s taxonomies of local fish and foraged weeds are admirably thorough, but I will not be making use of them. Like Colwin, I’m in it for the domestic details—the pure textures of daily life, uncomplicated by plot or character. “Honey from a Weed” is a plunge into another era’s bohemia, as evocative as Joni Mitchell singing about a guy on a Grecian isle who does the goat dance and cooks good omelettes and stews.
Molly Fischer, The New Yorker, April 2024