Rhubarb Rhubarb collects the witty, wide-ranging correspondence between Leiths-trained cook Mary Jane Paterson and award-winning gardener Jo Thompson. Two good friends who found themselves in a perfect world of cupcakes and centrepieces, they decided to demystify their own skills for one another: the results are sometimes self-deprecating, often funny, and always enlightening.
Jo would find herself one day panicking about what to cook for Easter lunch: a couple of emails with Mary Jane and the fear subsided, and sure enough, a delicious meal appeared on the table. Meanwhile, Jo helped Mary Jane combat her irrational fear of planting bulbs by showing how straightforward the process can be.
The book is full of sane, practical advice for the general reader: it provides uncomplicated, seasonal recipes that people can make in the midst of their busy lives, just as the gardening tips are interesting, quick and helpful for beginners. Mary Jane shares secrets and knowledge gathered over a lifetime of providing fabulous food for friends and family, while Jo’s expertise in beautiful planting enables the reader to have a go at simple schemes with delightful results.
There is something deeply special about this book! I identify with both the hopeless gardener and the hopeful cook on the front cover, though I should first confess that I am somewhat hopeless at both. My garden survives despite of me and my cooking, well the less said about that the better. So reading this joyful book, gave me both heart and hope that I can one day achieve some level of competence in both.
Wise words were in the correspondence from gardener to cook, I particularly connected with “seems to me that what stops me baking is sheer terror, everything looks so daunting when presented in a book….” oh god this is so me! I have cookbooks, but they scare me rigid! Yet the patient advice within Rhubarb Rhubarb made me feel at ease and the delicious recipes within and the book with clear no nonsense instruction where simply brilliant.
It’s the warmth of the correspondence between both that gave me a sense of peace, the humour that shines from each page, gave me a much needed lift and left me feeling a sense of gratitude to them both. I smiled at the advice about growing hydrangeas, which just as in the book are the mainstay of my garden, safe largely from my inexperienced hands. While I identified with the cooks statement that I am often too disorganised to do it as well as the gardener herself, I loved her honesty and it reminded me, that gardening might not be her forte, but cooking is and that is where her strengths lie.
Between the two, gardener and cook, this book reminded me that we all have our strengths in life and by sharing them with others, in correspondence as in Rhubarb Rhubarb, we are gifting others a precious gift. Both Mary Jane Paterson and Jo Thompson did this for each other and through this book, with us.
Everyone should buy it, not just for themselves but for those they love. It is not just a book about gardening and cooking, it’s an ode to friendship, kindness and the joy of sharing.
You can purchase this book from Amazon
Mary Jane Paterson trained at Leiths School of Food and Wine, then worked as a cook, including at the English Gardening School. Her first culinary adventure was documented in her mother Jill Lowe’s novel Yadav: A Roadside Love Story. Jo Thompson is one of the UK’s leading garden designers, renowned for her exquisite planting and innate sense of place. Jo’s Wedgwood Garden won a gold medal at the 2018 Chelsea Flower Show, and she has won numerous other awards including several Chelsea golds. She also lectures and writes for the Sunday Times. @gardendesigner1/@jothompsongarden About the authors