The Piglet2013 / Final Round, 2013

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Deb Perelman

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A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories

A Girl and Her Pig

April Bloomfield

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Judged by: Fergus Henderson

Fergus Henderson was born in London in 1963, his father a keen diner, his mother a keen cook. He studied architecture before his thoughts turned to cooking. Shortly after his restaurant, St. John, opened its doors, Fergus received an MBE  for his services to gastronomy. He was awarded his first Michelin Star in 2009, and in April 2011, he opened his first hotel, the St. John Hotel in London’s Chinatown.

Critical acclaim for Fergus's brand of simple, pared down cooking followed, and St. John has won more that its fair share of awards and high rankings in national and international listings. Fergus published Nose to Tail Eating -- A Kind of British Cooking in 1999, which garnered much acclaim and won the Andre Simon award for food writing.

A follow up book, Beyond Nose to Tail Eating was published in 2007, co-written with St. John's head baker, Justin Piers Gellatly. Fergus enjoys a culinary reputation beyond the two restaurants and the hotel, however; he continues to develop projects all in the name of nose to tail eating, the basic principle which best sums up Fergus's approach to food and the spirit with which one should approach not only cooking but the dining experience as a whole.

The Judgment

Cookbooks are particular things -- they’re not unlike catalogs of an artist’s work, a description of place and a marker of the time in which they are written. In that way, their permanence is not inherent, and many have the potential to become obsolete bookshelf fodder.

The world is drowning under a culinary tsunami wave of cookbooks, and as such, the gems -- those that act as flotation devices amidst the storm -- are becoming harder to distinguish. They’re becoming fewer and farther in between. 

The role of a cookbook is important: it needs to teach you how to cook. And the books that succeed in this become battered and stained from much use -- they become timeless, much like old friends. There are books that take you by the hand, making sure everything works. They detail times, temperatures, weights, and measures. Others prescribe a looser relationship, sort of like Yoda teaching Luke the Force. 

In both cases, the book you forever want on your shelf should reassure you. It should never preach, but rather, it should inform and excite. Take my mum, who, after cooking a recipe 100 times, will still read the method before cooking it for a 101st. This shows the immense responsibility of a cook who has endeavored to write. 

Photos factor into the greatness of a cookbook, too, if slightly less. Still, they need to be beautiful, to get your juices going. Like a buxom farmer's wife from Normandy with an apple tart, say, or a plate of splendid cheese alongside a bottle of Burgundy. Or a pork chop and prunes. 

In this competition’s final, we have two books: one that represents timelessness, and one that lacks a sense of permanence. And we have two authors, both of whom are putting themselves on a pedestal to write a cookbook. April Bloomfield has addressed food with the perfect split of time and place, and a true sense of genus loci. On the other, very different hand, we have Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, the current, immediate nature of which lacks permanence and rigor. (Both of which are needed even in the domestic kitchen.)

A great cookbook, a lasting one, behaves more like an artist’s portfolio. The work should be now, but should also be ten years from now -- and it should capture in full the spirit of foods’ permanence and joy. The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan is a great example of a cookbook, brilliant in its recipes, that will never go out of style. And I still cook from Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of Southwest France, for its authority on all things French. (I also happen to love that she uses goose fat, but that is beside the point.) 

Here, between these two finalist cookbooks, it’s the domestic kitchen versus the professional. Both can be great, but it’s about adapting to your reader, becoming that old friend -- being the source that can be relied on time and time again.  

An 18th century Man-of-War captain had to befriend his crew and maintain discipline. There may be less broadsides today, but as it happens, there are many similarities between kitchens and such warships. So, in our modern day act of war between cookbooks -- each plentiful publication for itself -- the stand-alone book has to act as captain, to befriend its crew and to maintain discipline. And it has to do this in a way that lasts. 

The Votes

Cathy Barrow


Vote: A Girl and Her Pig

[The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook] is a great cookbook for the novice cook. But A Girl and Her Pig? Every recipe I made had a surprise. Each one taught me a technique. Most added an ingredient where it was least expected. And each one delighted all those gathered at the table.
Tom Hirschfeld


Vote: A Girl and Her Pig

A Girl and Her Pig is not just one of the best [cookbooks], but it rises to another level…As you get to know her food, you get to know Bloomfield. The pages are laced with personal tales of cooking and career and with each turn of the page her passion, which is quietly infectious, builds only to remain with you long after you've closed the cover.
Julia Turshen & Cleo Brock-Abraham


Vote: A Girl and Her Pig

April's [recipes] were much more evocative, incredibly inspiring and quite beautiful, more I want to eat that right now! In the end, both of these books deserve a place on your shelf; but while Deb made us feel even more at home in our home kitchens, April made us feel the grand possibility in these small spaces. When it comes down to it, it's April's book that makes us swoon just a bit more.

And the winner is…

A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories

A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories

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Do you Agree?


erryberrie February 27, 2014
I purchased both cookbooks after last years contest. I have made about 3-4 items from April Bloomfield's "A Girl and her Pig"; but none of them were followed exactly to the recipe due to lack of available ingredients (living in the country is limited). Even though some of the ingredients were a bit off, all of the dishes were excellent; full of depth and wonderful flavor (mint can go a long way in the pea soup!). However, over the past year I have tried around 10 of Deb Perelman's recipes from the "Smitten Kitchen Cookbook" purely due to the approach-ability of the recipes themselves. Many of the recipes have been repeated--- to the point where water and food staining on the pages is prevalent throughout. The turkey meatballs with smashed chickpeas (a standard in our home now), baked eggplant, wild rice casserole, flourless chocolate cake, brittled peanuts, brown buttered Rice Krispie Treats, etc, etc, etc, have been made over and over. I would consider giving a copy of the Smitten Kitchen cookbook to my (wanna-be) chef family members; because it is just that good of a cookbook--- well written, approachable, with easily obtainable ingredients, and clear (if not perfect) instructions. I really like "A Girl and her Pig," but I would have to give Deb Perelman my vote here.
Aly W. February 10, 2014
I love the Smitten Kitchen and her book. I do not get the comparison or why Deb has to endure the slam. They are different books and both are well done. I do NOT LIKE this kind of negative slam on a decent person who goes over the top to create and share well tested and thought out recipes. Boo on this format and style. It sucks. Why can't reviews be set up to be positive and constructive in that sense?
olive February 10, 2014
Yayy! I cannot wait to get this cookbook. April is a real hero of mine! Great choice!
Salles May 19, 2013
Terrible cover:(
She looks horrible, gross.
erryberrie February 27, 2014
I was initially put off the cover also; but purchased the book anyway based on the Piglet review (dont judge a book by its cover?). What I realized is that April has great respect for the animals with which she cooks. She uses mostly all of the animal; and the recipes are thoughtful and well written; a true testament to that animal's life. In the cover photo, April is holding the pig with respect, and in her recipes, she artfully prepares the meat in such a way that pays tribute to the main event (the meat itself!).
Victoria C. March 2, 2013
I'm glad you had the three community judges because I think the only thing the so-called conflict of interest could have caused would have been Mr. Henderson's being harder than he had to be when judging April Bloomfield's book. I, personally, think the choice made was the correct one. I love A Girl and Her Pig; it's brilliant, a wonderful book, one of only a few that I have two copies of because I cook in two places. I look forward to The Piglet each year, and even if I don't always agree with the Judges (I was personally shocked when Bouchon Bakery, which is a very readable, usable, important book did not move forward and disappointed when Canal House, which I read, and like, and use, dropped out), it's a lot of fun.
Bob Y. February 28, 2013
I haven't read either of the finalists but wonder if your choice of Ferguson was not a bit weighted to the Pig book. Using your most active members be the voice of the people is also a bit weighted, as these are expert and adventurous cooks.
MsMora February 27, 2013
A well deserved win for April. I attended a debut of her book at Lincoln Restaurant in Portland OR last year where she made recipes from the book along with Lincoln's chef/owner Jenn Lewis. The two of them made a terrific team. April was a breath of fresh air; she's casual and real. Her food was delicious. She treated everyone as if they were a long lost relative. We'd love to have her come back to Portland again.
Naomi M. February 27, 2013
There were so many outstanding cookbooks this year. And one that never seemed to get noticed for some reason is a major impressive study into Latin American Food, from all the Latin American countries. It is
Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America by Maricel E. Presilla. I just cannot get over how amazed I am by this book. It is, to me, as important as Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Here is the blurb from Amazon..."Gran Cocina Latina unifies the vast culinary landscape of the Latin world, from Mexico to Argentina and all the Spanish-speaking countries of the Caribbean. In one volume it gives home cooks, armchair travelers, and curious chefs the first comprehensive collection of recipes from this region. An inquisitive historian and a successful restaurateur, Maricel E. Presilla has spent more than thirty years visiting each country personally. She’s gathered more than 500 recipes for the full range of dishes, from the foundational adobos and sofritos to empanadas and tamales to ceviches and moles to sancocho and desserts such as flan and tres leches cake. Detailed equipment notes, drink and serving suggestions, and color photographs of finished dishes are also included. This is a one-of-a-kind cookbook to be savored and read as much for the writing and information as for its introduction to heretofore unrevealed recipes. Two-color; 32 pages of color photographs; 75 line drawings". Really if you have any interest in the fabulous cuisine from Latin American, it is a must have book. It blew me away more than any other book this year.
Naomi M. February 27, 2013
Sorry- I forgot about this was also easy to overlook, and is fabulous. '101 Classic Cookbooks 501 Classic Recipes'. This is a huge book, with fabulous color photos of the 101 cookbooks they selected, then recipes from them. A lot of thoughts expressed on what makes a classic cookbook. The book is a real joy. It is like finding old friends in the pages, and finding new ones as well. The book is 688 pages and weighs a bunch!
Kenzi W. February 27, 2013
We featured Gran Cocina Latina as a Piglet Community Pick!
Naomi M. February 27, 2013
Cool! I did not see that!
luvcookbooks February 27, 2013
So happy to read all the Piglets ... luv the community picks reviews, please repeat next year.
mcs3000 February 27, 2013
What a fun ending to the Piglet w/three of my faves: April Bloomfield, Fergus Henderson (dying to visit St. John) + Cathy Barrow. Love the Piglet. Can next year's start tomorrow?
MrsWheelbarrow February 27, 2013
Stevenrides February 27, 2013
Any contest that eliminates Jerusalem in the first round is suspect IMHO :-)
jamcook February 26, 2013
Maybe just a teensy bit of British nose to tail Jingoism?
AntoniaJames February 26, 2013
I'd love to hear more from the community judges about the specific recipes they tried and liked, and why. (I suspect that the community judges had strict word limits for their comments.) Thank you. ;o)
MrsWheelbarrow February 27, 2013
As one of the community judges, I tried six or more recipes in each book. In SK, loved the leek fritters, meatloaf, chocolate chip brioche pretzels (OMG) and a snap pea salad with a miso dressing. All were really solid recipes. From GAHP, I went bonkers for coddled eggs with anchovy and cream, liver and onions, pancakes with bacon and chile, squash and pancetta toasts and seven vegetable soup. Each of these had some special element or technique that took the recipe over the top. It was a difficult choice, but GAHP quite simply knocked me out.
ElizaB February 26, 2013
Yes! This has been one of my favorite cookbook purchases of the year. Beautifully written and with fascinating techniques and recipes. Glad it won.
Lauren10028 February 26, 2013
So enjoyed the the tournament and rushed to my UWS Barnes and Noble to buy A Girl and Her Pig. After searching the cookbook table, I found out the book was removed!!!!!! and now on the bookshelves due to complaints from the vegans. Is this a cause for roast pig????
AntoniaJames February 26, 2013
I agree with so much of what Mr. Henderson has to say. I also appreciate the concise, helpful comments of each of the judges. I agree that timelessness -- i.e., a book that ages well -- should carry the day. And on that basis alone, I concur in the judgment. (Sorry, but the banal chatter that typifies so many food blogs, and increasingly is making its way between the covers of hardbound cookbooks by food bloggers, doesn't age well. I don't buy, because I find tedious and tiresome, cookbooks that include more than a bare minimum of first-person-singular prose. There, I said it.) ;o)
cookkate February 26, 2013
The same Fergus Henderson who has a quote on the back cover of the book? Nice.
hardlikearmour February 26, 2013
Which is why food52 fully disclosed the conflict & and had alternate judges pick the winner.
nancy O. February 26, 2013
I'd suggest that food52 put a note about the conflict and how they resolved it here on this page to avoid the ongoing confusion.
Kenzi W. February 26, 2013
Thanks, hla! If anyone would like to read more, here is the post we published and featured on our homepage:
mainecook61 February 26, 2013
How much better it would have been in this case to avoid a conflict of interest rather than have to explain it. And how much better all of these reviews would have been if there had been a set of standards for what they should contain. Celebrity in the food world does not always equal good writing. Given the labor and love that must go into the writing of a cookbook, the writers whose volumes were reviewed in this competition often deserved better than they received.
jellygood February 26, 2013
Kenzi - I'm please you mention the conflict of interest! While I like April's book I'm surprised that Fergus was chosen as the judge. He was not only April's culinary mentor, and is acknowledged as such in the book, but she included a recipe "Fried Pig's Ear Salad" which is described as her "homage" to Fergus "a friend and chef." Bearing that in mind, he is a surprising choice to judge the final round lol!
Kenzi W. February 26, 2013
Of course! And we totally agree. We pick all of the judges and the books before the start of the tournament, so we didn't choose Fergus after we knew that April's book would be in the final -- but this was our solution to keeping the Piglet's integrity and fairness intact. Also, sidenote: that salad is delicious.
paseo February 26, 2013
Great reply, Kenzi. I don't get the complaints about Henderson being judge between the finalists. It's not like anyone knew which would be the last two. And there was complete unanimity amongst the five of them.
hardlikearmour February 26, 2013
Great Piglet this year! And quite fitting that it was won by a Girl and Her Pig. Congrats to all participants. I've already purchased Roots and Salt Sugar Smoke thanks to the Piglet, and I'll likely add a couple more soon.
ChefJune February 26, 2013
I agree, Liz, and I'm off to order both these books. The various reviews I've read during Piglet have convinced me they are must-haves. Have to admit I was partial to April's book. Having been the granddaughter of a pig farmer, and having raised a pig myself, I love the cover of her book.
Naomi M. February 26, 2013
My grandparents raised pigs as well as food crops, cattle, and chickens. I will never forget the screams from the pigs as they were slaughtered. I raised a pig too, a pet of my daughters. Her name was Spamala. She was extremely smart, very social, and really sweet, living to be 19 years old. Our pet rescued goats are even more loving and smart. I like all cookbooks, but my main goal is to try to adapt their recipes and make them taste great but be vegetarian.