You know how some people are obsessed with stamp collections or fantasy football teams? Well, we're obsessed with cookbooks. Here, in Books We Love, we'll talk about our favorites.
Today: Eugenia Bone's new -- and realistic -- take on DIY everything.
Books that focus on canning and preserving are useful: They teach us how to avoid giving our loved ones botulism, how to make our own pickles instead of shelling out $11 for a jar at the farmers market.
Books that teach us how to incorporate canning and preserving into our existing cooking lives, however, have more potential to stick. They are less likely to be forgotten after the thrill of a new hobby passes, set aside with decoupage books and neglected watercolor sets. The Kitchen Ecosystem, Eugenia Bone’s fourth cookbook, is a strong example of the latter: less a compendium of jam recipes and more a fresh look at how to smartly use your kitchen.
Bone is a tireless, resourceful, and intuitive home cook; I am sure that part of her brain is reserved for a whirring rotation of questions and ideas and recipes and crafty uses for the last bit of stock in her fridge. This book aims to teach us all to think in much the same way, with preserving tips, recipes for DIY condiments and entrées alike, and smart uses for many of the jars that often languish in our pantries.
Each chapter focuses on a different ingredient with “edible waste streams.” (A less giggle-inducing term for this might be “useful scraps.”) For each ingredient -- from ginger to lobster to currants to duck -- there are a few recipes that use it fresh, at least one way to preserve it, a recipe to put those preserves to use, and an idea or two for how to use any of those scraps you might otherwise toss.
An example: Bone bakes oranges into cake; preserves them in sorbet and tapenade form; serves that tapenade with roast chicken; turns orange scraps into bitters and shortbread; makes an Old Fashioned with those bitters. Anyways, after all that resourcefulness, one needs a drink.
But what is a kitchen ecosystem, you might be asking? As Bone recently told me, “The kitchen ecosystem is like an investment fund of component recipes that exist in your pantry, fridge, and freezer on a regular basis from which you can make a wide variety of meals.”
To translate: DIY a whole bunch of ingredients that you’d normally buy from the store. Keep only as much as you need. Use them to make your cooking easier and more flavorful. Fin.
Flavor was one of the first things to seed this idea in Bone’s mind: At a potluck event for her book Well-Preserved, she couldn’t figure out why some of the attendees’ dishes -- made by following her recipes exactly -- weren’t as good as the versions she made at home. And then she realized that they were using commercial mayonnaise, or canned tomatoes, or out-of-season ingredients. She began to understand that a kitchen stocked with fresh, homemade ingredients is often more important than the perfect recipe. All she had to do was to teach us how to get there.
In this way, The Kitchen Ecosystem is less a traditional cookbook and more a direct expression of Bone’s cooking style. You get to sort of Malkovich yourself inside her brain as she cooks, and then use that intel to create an ecosystem of your own, rather than just try to live in hers.
More: Eugenia Bone also wrote a book about the wild world of mushrooms. More on that here!
The other great thing about this book: It will not tell you to spend an entire afternoon “putting things up,” a huge relief for the laziest of us. It talks of “nanobatches,” of simmering just a quart of stock made from vegetable or chicken scraps while the rest of your dinner cooks. These are baby steps toward a pantry full of things you’ve made, rather than a daunting overhaul.
More: Put up one little batch of applesauce this week -- you don't even need a recipe.
When Bone first started preserving, small batch recipes didn’t exist: “Fannie Farmer recipes are like, putting up strawberry jam for 500 people. I’d end up with 12 half pints of strawberry jam, after a big sweaty horrible day, and if they didn’t work I’d be homicidal. After a while I started to figure out, hey, what do I really eat? I eat two half pints of strawberry jam a year.” So she scaled things back.
That self-examination is an important step in defining and creating your own ecosystem: What do you like to eat? What do you buy that you could be making at home? What is fresh where you live? Haven’t you always wanted to make your own raisins? Take your answers and make something from them, and your food will taste better.
Author photo by Huger Foote; cover photo by Ben Fink; all other photos by James Ransom