I have spent more than a few moments in my life wishing that I came from a place or background with a well-defined food culture. My culinary identity is a decided hodgepodge of mid-century Jewish cooking, hippie whole grain, and 1980s west coast home cooking. While the food that issues forth from these influences is reliably good and occasionally exceptional, it isn’t really grounded in place or culture.
Because I feel culinarily untethered, I often find myself gravitating to cookbooks that offer insight and exposure to more rooted ways of bellying up to the stove or kitchen table. One such book that appeals to me both on this level, and on the preserving front, is Ashley English‘s latest, called Southern From Scratch.
This is Ashley’s most personal book and it does a gorgeous job synthesizing her own food experiences with the Southern kitchen know-how taught to her by her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Truly, from the moment you open up the cover, you feel like Ashley is there, guiding you along through the recipes.
This book is organized by pantry category (Pickles & Relishes, Sauces & Vinegars, Fats & Meats, etc.). Within in chapter, you’ll find a collection of master recipes (depending on the chapter topic, you’ll find as few as four and as many as twelve). Each master recipe then has a couple-three sub-recipes, designed to help you make the most of it.
There’s quite a lot in this book that speaks directly to my preserve-loving heart. There’s the Sweet Onion Relish (page 35 – I’m forever on the hunt for the best onion preserve), Muscadine Jelly (page 71 – we get these for a brief window each summer), Chile Sauce (page 107 – this recipe has a particularly lovely headnote), and the Southern Shakshuka with Hoecakes (page 123 – this just sounds delicious).
I think you all are really going to like this book!
“Because I feel culinarily untethered, I often find myself gravitating to cookbooks that offer insight and exposure to more rooted ways of bellying up to the stove or kitchen table.”
This is pretty much how I feel in general about cooking. I am unable to just throw things together and have a delicious meal. I don’t know how to fix things I mess up, or what spices to use when or what they are supposed to taste like. And much of the time, I don’t have the tools and have to find a way around what the directions say. I can follow a recipe, but even that sometimes doesn’t turn out right.
Cheryl, I totally get it. I sounds like you might benefit from finding a simple, reliable cookbook and sticking with it for awhile. Perhaps something by Deborah Madison, as she’s always reliable. Spending some time learning from a singular culinary voice might help you fill in the gaps with your skills.