I read a lot of cookbooks, although I don’t use a lot of them; I’m too busy tinkering with my own recipes! The books I enjoy the most are the ones that give the reader a sense of the author’s personality as well as his or her philosophy of food.
The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making fits these criteria beautifully. The publisher, Clarkson Potter, recently sent me a review copy.
The book’s author, Alana Chernila of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, is hugely likable. (One also meets the 30-something cook’s attractive husband and two daughters in the course of reading the book.) And her passion for making as much food as possible in the home is infectious.
At the book’s beginning, Chernila lists her reasons for making food from scratch:
1. Food made at home is better for you.
2. Food made at home tastes better.
3. Food made at home usually costs less.
4. Food made at home eliminates unnecessary packaging.
5. Food made at home will change the way you think about food.
It’s hard to argue with her logic. Most of us are increasingly wary of additives in food. The simplest and most tasty way to avoid these is to control what goes into what we eat. We’re all looking for yummy, affordable food that won’t make too big a carbon footprint. And we all enjoy turning food into a joy as well as a necessity.
To me Chernila’s recipes fall into three categories. The first will be the least useful to people like me, who are country dwellers and routinely prepare many of these foods at home already.
My neighbors generally make their own applesauce, their own basic birthday cakes, and their own cornbread. If they have time and the season is good, they freeze fruits and vegetables for winter use as well. Chernila’s recipes for foods like these will interest readers like me—we’re all looking for new ways to do what we already do—but they won’t be essential.
The second category is more exotic. Chernila makes a number of foods that I have a feeling I may make only once but will enjoy making: butter, graham crackers (actually, I HAVE made these in the past, but her recipe looks better than mine!), mozzarella cheese, crème fraîche.
The third category encompasses practical foods that I can see incorporating into my regular menus: crackers, yogurt, and best of all condiments like mustard and hot sauce.
In fact, I have already made some mustard and have a photo to prove it!
Part of the charm of The Homemade Pantry is the informality and non-preachiness of its prose. A busy wife, mother, food writer, and selectman, Alana Chernila admits that her kitchen can look like a disaster … and that some days she doesn’t have time to make everything her family eats from scratch.
She does try, however. And so should the rest of us.
We recently heard the parable of the mustard seed in church. Thanks to the parable, over the years mustard seeds have become a symbol of great things coming from small starts. It’s nice to remember that the seeds can literally create something a lot bigger than you would expect from looking at them as well!
Here is Alana Chernila’s mustard recipe, which I made last week. It makes a spicy mustard, but that suits me just fine.
1/2 cup brown or yellow mustard seeds (I used yellow this time but have some brown seeds I’m going to try soon.)
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons honey
Pour the mustard seeds into a medium mixing bowl and cover with water 3 inches higher than the seeds. Cover the bowl, and let it sit at room temperature for 12 hours.
Drain the water from the seeds, reserving at least 1/4 cup of the water. Combine the soaked mustard seeds, the vinegar, garlic, salt, honey, and 1/4 cup of the soaking water in a blender, and blend until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a jar, cover, and refrigerate. If you can, wait for a week before using the mustard so that the flavors can blend; on Day One it tastes very mustardy!
According to Chernila this mustard lasts for 2 months in the fridge. Makes about 1-1/2 cups.