The Piglet

The Piglet Community Pick: Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry

February 25, 2015

Read up on some of 2014’s most-loved cookbooks, tested and reviewed by the one and only Food52 community.

Today: Cookinginvictoria is addicted to pickling and preservering her way through Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry

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Cathy Barrow, the author of Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, is a longtime Food52-er, famous for recipes like Salmon in Sorrel Sauce and Creamy Mushroom Soup. But followers of her blog, Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen, know that her passion for preserving knows no bounds. Her first cookbook is a testament to her authority on the subject. She guided me -- by no means a veteran canner -- with precise, detailed instructions in an encouraging, warm, and genuine tone through making preserves and then using them in dishes. 

This is foremost a primer on preserving and contains 4 stand-alone sections: Water Bath Canning, Pressure Canning, Preserving Meats, and Making Cheese. The recipes are grouped seasonally and move sequentially from easy to advanced techniques. Throughout them all, though, Cathy feels like a friend: Her headnotes are chatty and funny. I don’t know Cathy, but I feel like I do after reading her book and trying out some of her recipes.

More: Before you start preserving, take a look at Mrs. Wheelbarrow's 9 essential tools for pickling and preserving.

I wanted to try a preserve recipe, but there’s a paucity of fresh seasonal fruit available in the winter here in the Pacific Northwest. I went for Straight-Up Preserves with Any Fruit, a master recipe for making jam with any fruit of your choice. I made mine with local pears and followed Cathy’s guidance for flavorings, adding pink peppercorns and a pumpkin-spiced whiskey I had on hand. The jam was slightly spicy, with caramel undertones. In other words, lick-the-spoon delicious. 

What makes the book indispensable to me, however, are the 36 recipes that use preserves in dishes. Cathy believes that a pantry of homemade preserved food should be used in a practical way: Jam isn’t just for spreading on toast, but should be used to fill rugelach, top focaccia, and marinate steak. For those who choose not to do any preserving, these recipes can be made with high-quality ingredients purchased at farmers' markets or from well-stocked grocery stores. I adored the Salmon and Grain Salad with Red Onion Quickles, in which you brine red onions for just 20 minutes. They were fantastic -- crunchy, vibrant, and flavorful.

The Chicken Breasts with Currant Jelly Sauce was another winning recipe. I didn’t have any currant jelly in my pantry, but some pinot noir jelly I had on hand worked just great. The jelly is combined with mustard, thyme, wine, butter, and a sautéed shallot to create a complex but easy-to-make pan sauce to serve with the pan-fried chicken breasts. I loved that it was quick to put together for a weekday dinner but fancy enough for company.

More: Mrs. Wheelbarrow's cookbook is our preserving bible. Read about why we love it.

While most of the recipes aren’t difficult to create, some require some investment of time and can’t be rushed, and some ingredients can be challenging to find. I tried the simplest recipe from the meat section, Maple and Bourbon Bacon, and the hardest part was sourcing pink salt, which I finally found from a local charcuterie shop (you can also find it online). That being said, it was the best bacon I have ever eaten and the ingredients cost less than the bacon I buy from my farmers' market. Similarly, it took some effort to source non-homogenized milk to make ricotta cheese, but I eventually did. The curds were easy to separate from the whey, and the cheese had a nice, firm texture with a lovely, earthy flavor. It was far superior to store-bought varieties.

Recipes like the bacon and ricotta fulfill the book’s premise that making pantry staples can be practical and satisfying. What I appreciate most about this cookbook is how Cathy takes the fear out of preserving and makes it approachable and fun. I find cooking from it to be incredibly addictive -- so much so that I am already thinking about rigging up a makeshift smoker with my gas grill so that I can make Cathy's smoked oysters.

First photo by Mark Weinberg; second photo by James Ransom; all others by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton


The Piglet—inspired by The Morning News' Tournament of Books—is where the 16 most notable cookbooks of the year face off in a NCAA-style bracketed tournament. Watch the action and weigh in on the results!


See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • aargersi
  • hardlikearmour
  • EmilyC
  • Midge
  • lastnightsdinner
In 2009, after living more than twenty years in NYC, my husband, young daughter and I packed up our lives and embarked on a grand adventure, moving to Victoria, B.C. There are many things that we miss about New York (among them ripe, vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh ravioli and New York bagels), but, I have to admit, that living in the Pacific Northwest has been pretty amazing food-wise. Now we have a yard with plum and apple trees, a raspberry and strawberry patch and a Concord grape arbor. I have a vegetable and herb garden, so I can grow at least some of our food. And we have an amazing farmer's market a block from our house. I love cooking (and eating) seasonally and locally. And it's been very rewarding introducing my daughter to cooking and eating, and teaching her where our food comes from.


aargersi February 26, 2015
Love your review CIV!! I just ordered the book - my first stops will be the jam and the bacon, and then the oysters!!!
hardlikearmour February 25, 2015
Really lovely review, CiV! I love this book, and definitely need to make her bacon!!
EmilyC February 25, 2015
Wonderful review! This book has been on my wish list for a long time and your review sealed the deal.
Midge February 25, 2015
What a lovely review. I've been meaning to buy Cathy's book and now I can't wait!
lastnightsdinner February 25, 2015
Definitely make the smoked oysters - they are AMAZING! (My husband and I got to test them back when Cathy's book was but an infant, and they are seriously fantastic.)
cookinginvictoria February 25, 2015
Okay, I absolutely must make those oysters this weekend! Thanks for the recommendation, LND!
Brain H. February 25, 2015
Cookinginvictoria, I have been enjoying your Instagram posts as you cook your way through Practical Pantry! I agree that Cathy's book is incredibly useful, gorgeous and addictive. I have a stack of books about home preserving but this may be the only one I'll ever need. Cathy's lovely voice comes through in every page, and her instructions are so clear that I have been nudged to step outside my comfort zone and try new things.

Cathy, I am finally getting around to making your bacon (d.5 of the cure) and am fixing to cure a moose tenderloin using your Cured Pork Tenderloin recipe. You have even inspired me to refurbish a 50 year old hand-me-down pressure cooker/canner so I can delve into that chapter too.
cookinginvictoria February 25, 2015
Jacksonholefoodie, so great to hear that this book has resonated with you too. Welcome to the I-am-making-bacon-from-scratch club! Your moose tenderloin also sounds fantastic. I too am feeling the urge to explore pressure canning. I did say, didn't I, that this book is addictive? :)
MrsWheelbarrow February 25, 2015
Annie!!! Moose tenderloin? That's amazing. I love that so much. And rock on with your pressure canning self. You're going to be so happy.
MrsWheelbarrow February 25, 2015
Oh my gosh. Thank you cookinginvictoria for your very nice review. I can't even describe how wonderful it is to know you are cooking from my book! Addictive? <3 (And... don't delay, really ... make the smoked oysters.)
cookinginvictoria February 25, 2015
I am so thrilled that you read my review, MrsWheelbarrow! It was such a pleasure reading and cooking from your cookbook. Several of the recipes in your book have become pantry staples for us, such as the quickles, which I now make on a weekly basis. I plan to make the smoked oysters ASAP -- will try them out this weekend when we bring the grill out of its winter hibernation!
LLStone February 25, 2015
I absolutely love this book and completely agree with the lovely review.
cookinginvictoria February 25, 2015
Thank you so much, LLStone!
luvcookbooks February 25, 2015
You sold me on this book! I admired its beauty in bookstores but wasn't sure about makin meat and cheese. Was it possible, and would I want to eat the results? Thanks for testing and a well written review!
cookinginvictoria February 25, 2015
Luvcookbooks, I too felt the same way before testing this cookbook. I had dabbled in canning jam and pickles, but making cheese from scratch and preserving meat, always seemed too daunting and out of my comfort zone. But I found that these recipes were really fun to make and the results were absolutely fantastic. For a starter recipe, I suggest trying out the bacon recipe. I have already made two batches of the stuff. It is heavenly!