Jan 16, 2013

Book Review: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter

"It's empowering to know I can cure bacon, brew vanilla, age Camembert, extract honey from a hive, and behead a chicken, even if I have no desire to do at least one of those things ever again," writes Jennifer Reese in her book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. It's also nice to save money (which happens often, if not always) when you make food at home - and, as Reese points out repeatedly, often homemade makes you wonder how food manufacturers ever convinced people to pay extra for their dismal products in the first place.

If you've ever wondered: Is this worth making at home? Reese book is probably for you. For each recipe in this book, she offers up her opinion on whether it's worth making from scratch (Is it a hassle to make? Is it cheaper? Does it just taste better?) and how much you might (or might not) save making it at home. She covers a wide variety of foods, from veggies and junk food to bread and cheese. She even tells us (because this book is as much commentary and food memoir as it is cookbook) of her adventures raising chickens, ducks, turkeys, goats, and bees. There are certainly gaps in the book; Reese discusses homemade butter, yogurt, and cream cheese, but what about cottage cheese, ricotta, and sour cream? But unless her publisher was to market a huge tome at a high price, I don't think we can fault the author for this.

Yes, readers should understand Reese's price estimates are just that - estimates, based upon her personal location. Before deciding whether it's cheaper to cook from scratch, readers should investigate their own local prices. (But do remember it's not all about saving money. Sometimes it's about avoiding GMOs, or nasty chemicals, or just plain making food that tastes better than store bought.)

And yes, Reese has occasional feminist rants - which I suspect weren't edited out because they are designed to be mildly amusing - or offer up excuses for a feminist writing this kind of book. For example, Reese writes about her childhood fixation over a book called Laurel's Kitchen - and her apparent disgust upon re-reading it as an adult:
"Was I hallucinating? Had I really once loved this book? And were these truly the views of groovy Berkley, California women in the 1970s? Interspersed between paeans to the glory of homemade bread and recipes for cashew gravy were meditations on the nature of women that struck me as so essentialist and retrograde that they might have come from a fundamentalist religion sect.
'I would never go on record as saying 'a woman's place is in the home,' wrote one of the authors. 'But to my mind the most effective front for social change, the critical point were our efforts will count the most, is not in business or profession...but in the home and community, where the problems start.'
In the home, kneading a big batch of cracked wheat bread, was where women - the 'nurturant' sex - belonged...If I saw my teenage daughter reading this today, I would gently remove it from her hands and suggest that she go to the library and find herself something energizing and appropriate for a girl her age, like Wifey or Scruples."
And yes, Reese uses a some coarse language - usually when quoting her husband. She appears to do it as an attempt at humor, but really it's unnecessary and distracting.

And yes, sometimes Reese seems clueless about things that (to me, at least) seem obvious. For example, she writes about her family's test of home roasted chicken vs. grocery store bought rotisserie chicken, without seeming to understand the difference in cooking methods - or that store bought rotisserie chicken is almost always injected with sugar and salt water to make it more moist and flavorful. Another example is her problem-filled story about having backyard chickens. It's pretty discouraging and the author never admits the issues could have been avoided if she'd just had a little expert advice.

BUT these flaws are actually pretty minor when you look at the book as a whole, and I'm glad to have Make the Bread, Buy the Butter on my bookshelf.

Among many other foods, you'll read about making peanut butter, hot dog buns, "Nutella," yogurt (including lemon and coffee flavored yogurt), English muffins, croissants, baking powder, cakes, pot stickers, French fries, onion rings, potato chips (the fried kind; Reese doesn't mention the baked or microwaved variety), tortilla chips, crazy-complicated fried chicken, popcorn (the stove top kind; oddly, she doesn't mention homemade microwave popcorn), glazed donuts, marshmallows, croutons, Graham crackers, beef jerky, salt pork, Canadian bacon, bacon, pancetta, sauerkraut, mozzarella (which she claims you can't make with typical store bought milk; this contradicts Ricki Carrol's Home Cheese Making...More on this soon, when I attempt my first batch of mozzarella), stuffing, pumpkin pie, lemonade, ginger ale, a Cheese-Its style cracker, vanilla and lemon extract, "Oreos," and "Fig Newtons."

Some critics complain there are a lot of not-so-healthy foods in the book - but aren't those exactly the sort of foods we tend to buy, instead of make from scratch? I definitely won't use every recipe in this book, but I do think it's a great reference for those who want healthier, cheaper food for their families.


3 comments:

  1. Interesting concept. After reading her views toward nurturing our children, I might prefer to read "Laurel's Kitchen".

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  2. Teek, her comments definitely made me want to find and read a copy of Laurel's Kitchen :)

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  3. Glad to read your review. I have been wondering about this book. It's been on my wishlist for a while, I just wasn't *sold* on it. Now I think I am :-)

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