No Meat, and fourteen veg. The Story of a hand-printed cookbook (Part 1- the first seven vegetables].

Ashley Ailes

When you are a keen printmaker with a grown-up vegetarian daughter, what do you do give her for Christmas?  The answer just has to be a little vegetarian cookbook, illustrated with limited edition prints.

My heart sank at the task. Vegetables?  These are not a fit subject for a romantic printmaker.  Where are the subtle reflections on water, the sensuous curves of the Downs, the dappling of light and shade, the drama, the pathos, the faces?

Err? So how do you make vegetable prints interesting?  The words “fine art” and “Brussel Sprout” sit uneasily together. I started to cut and print, merely with the idea that I would vary the shapes of the prints to embed them into the text and use a number of unusual printmaking techniques.

Onions are my favourite vegetable.  I cook them with everything, and I have to be restrained from putting them in puddings. There were 2462 recipes containing onions on BBC Good Food when I looked for a recipe.  There are probably more onion recipes now.

It was an easy start to the project- a single colour linocut, using a warm brown Hawthorne oil-based ink.  Where it is not intrusive, I like to leave a border to the print, as I have done in this one, partly to frame the image, and partly to support the roller and prevent stray ink from landing in the cut areas of the lino

An onion bhaji recipe was the accompanying text.

Veg series Onion 2018

Broccoli came next.  The recipe was a broccoli pasta bake, enlivened by the white sauce, nutmeg, mustard and an incredible amount of very strong cheese.

The recipe was easy, but the print was not.  I used raw broccoli as the “plate”, with a fairly nasty British bog-standard watercolour printing ink, stamping it by hand on to a smooth paper.  At least I didn’t have to roll it through my press, (nor eat the broccoli afterwards).

Globe Artichokes grow in our garden.  For a few weeks in the summer, we eat them daily, by boiling them and scraping the flesh off through our teeth, smothered in salted butter, lemon juice and pepper.

I had a lucky break and found a small bit of marine plywood washed up on the beach at Warsash and sawed it roughly into A6 size.  The wood was a little hard and grainy, but the material cut well, and it worked for a reduction woodcut, printed twice in the press after the first cut in green, and again after the second cut in black Hawthorne inks.  I ought to have pasted it to a board and used Turnes-Burton pins to align the paper for each printing, but I registered it by hand.  The registration is not perfect, but for this particular image, I don’t think it matters.  Sometimes, the end result of a reduction print is that the woodblock is unusable again.  In this particular case, even after the second cut the block can still produce a nice, but different artichoke print.

Veg series Artichoke 2018

Potatoes are a staple food for most of Northern Europe.  A crop failure caused the massive famine in Ireland in the 1840s during British rule.  They have not forgiven us yet.

I just knew that I simply had to regress to primary school days and do a potato cut.  It was surprisingly difficult because a pile of potatoes is not a series of spheres and cutting little raw potatoes to interlock is tricky.

The print is not lovely, but there was no practical way to improve my technique because printmaking masterclasses on potato cuts are difficult to find.

This print uses ordinary water-based lino inks and each small potato was dobbed on by hand.  The moisture and starch in the potatoes unexpectedly added texture

I made up for the deficiencies in the print by using an absolutely cracking recipe for “Pommes Dauphinoise”.

Celery.  After the trauma of trying to do potato cuts, I gave myself an easy time by carving celery on to Japanese ply and cut right into the margins of the ply to make the plate’s outline mirror the celery shape.  I used Pfeil tools and Hawthorne inks.  The Japanese ply was a pleasure to cut, and easy to print. It is strange how some plates almost enjoy being printed, while other plates constantly fight back and smudge, leave dry areas or simply look awful.  What a relief to have an easy and satisfying print.

The recipe chosen was simply celery braised in stock, parsley and butter.

Asparagus.  Everyone knows how to eat asparagus.  You boil it, smother it in melted butter, lemon juice and black pepper and swallow it.

I really wasn’t too sure how to illustrate asparagus, and so I took a piece of a disposable thin plastic beer glass, mounted it with double-sided carpet tape onto a piece of card, and used a drypoint needle to scratch a drypoint, and then, as usual, wiped the plate with slightly thinned Hawthorne ink and printed it under hard pressure on to damp paper.

Sometimes the beer glass drypoint technique works much better than it did in this case, although since a beer glass has sides that taper outwards, the plate is always a very peculiar shape.

I dislike this print, although it sat nicely next to a column of text, and to compensate for its shortcomings, I did a more elaborate recipe for a puff pastry tart, topped with asparagus tips olives, and camembert.

Aubergine.  Lentil Moussaka is a poor substitute for the joys of a moussaka made with good mutton or lamb mince drowned in olive oil, with melting slices of aubergine.  Never mind, this is an illustration for a vegetarian cookbook and in its favour, my recipe called for “up to a bottle of red wine” to be used in making this dish.


I had kept a styrofoam pasty takeaway container from a Cornish summer holiday, (as you do).  I used the flat part of the lid (it was a very large pasty).  The aubergine body was cut completely out from it with the highlights removed  with a scalpel, and this section was inked up in deep purple oil-based ink (the scanner reproduction has turned this black).  The stalk was also cut out separately and inked in green.  I popped both pieces back into the matrix of the plate and printed them simultaneously.  The Styrofoam plate squashed significantly in the first printing, but, after tightening the press a little, it was ok to make further prints.  I did six hand-printed copies of this booklet and none of the plates gave up on a run of six (although the broccoli looked pretty tired by the end).

Veg series Aubergine 2018

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