It’s been a geological age since I picked up a new cookbook for this blog. The last two books sprawled across the summer months like teenagers on the couch—untidy, impossible to ignore, exuding a vague threat of never leaving. I was happy to discover their joyous qualities but also more than ready to move on.
My new focus is the popular 2011 experiment in “trying this at home,” Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. Written by the hilarious Jennifer Reese and published by Free Press, the book chronicles her cooking, baking, canning, curing and distilling journey through the basic items in many an American home’s pantry, all to answer the fundamental question, “Should I bother to make this from scratch or grab the pre-packaged version at Ralph’s?”
Hers was a practical need: She’d been laid off from her job during the recent recession, so she had gobs of time on her hands; pinched finances (although her husband still had his job); and, clearly, a gnawing urge to test herself. After purchasing a box of Smucker’s frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches called Uncrustables (which sound to me like a Showtime series about an extended family at the dawn of indoor plumbing), Reese walked into her kitchen, made a PB&J from scratch and had a taste-off. The Uncrustables were delicious at first bite—and then less and less so with each subsequent nibble. The Real Deal was yummy, of course, even as it dripped all over her hand.
My friend Jenny gave me this book last Christmas and it has been, so far, a great read. It’s organized into food-family sections such as “Breakfast,” “Junk Food and Candy,” “Thanksgiving,” “Restaurant Food” and, for the hardcore, carnivorous home cook, “Cured Meats.” Interspersed among these fairly standard offerings the reader finds chapters on duck eggs, honey, goats and cheese.
Throughout the book, Reese’s approach is simple: get the pre-made thing, replicate it at home to the extent that such replication is possible, and then compare the two on price, convenience and, most importantly, taste.
“Cool idea,” I thought as I started to read. I quickly hit a funny part and then another funny part and then an entire funny section, and I almost forgot that it’s a cookbook.