On buying a cookbook (or two)

“If you get one good recipe out of a cookbook, it’s worthwhile.”

my grandmother Carola

This adage has gotten me into trouble in the cookbook department, and yet I still stand by the sentiment.  I can’t think of many books where I cook more than 10 recipes and I can think of tons where I can only find one winner. So I admit it. I am a profligate buyer of cookbooks. Even after the 50 book purge I did last summer, I still have too many.

Last week when I was at Powell’s Books in Portland, I finally broke down and bought both Nose to Tail Eating and Beyond Nose to Tail. I have had my eye on these books for awhile now. The recipes that author Fergus Henderson provides in his missive go well beyond the comfort zone of most people. He’s into offal. Despite the fact that I have hardly cooked more than a chicken liver in the offal department, I find myself intrigued and excited. Hopefully I will carve out more than one recipe. The truth is though, it wasn’t the challenges of cooking lamb’s tongues that caught my imagination, it was the baking section. There is this method for making bread that I am DYING to try.  The author has you build something called a “mother” to raise the bread.  A mother is described by the author like this:

“The Mother adds character to your bread. The flavour and texture of sourdough in particular comes from using no commercial yeast, only your Mother.  The process takes longer but the results are worth the wait.”

I am very excited to get to work on this project. I am new to bread making.  I should qualify that. After 20 years of being a spectacularly unsuccessful bread maker (I only practiced sporadically), I now find I can make bread.  Really good bread – check it out:

I’m still not sure how it happened!

Even though I ordered this book because I really wanted to try out building a Mother which uses flour, rhubarb and water to make a bubbling fermenting powerhouse, I was not intentionally ignoring the fanfare that this book generated, which was huge among people who like adventurous cooking and who aren’t put off by offal.

Nose to Tail Eating was the first modern book to celebrate those odd bits of meat that everyone feels squeamish about: pigs ears, jowls and trotters, tripe, tongues, blood etc. I would love to tell you that I would call up my butcher and cavalierly order 14 pigs ears.  It’s not just ordering the ears though.  It’s what you have to do with them to make them palatable. The tough little hairs have to be shaved off (!?!) with a Bic (!?!) and then the ears have to be brined for 3 days.  After simmering them with a lot of stock vegetables, I would have to call up 8-10 of my dearest friends and serve them sliced pressed pigs ears as a starter.  I wish I could see myself doing that, I really do.  I would love to be a person brave enough to make pigs ears and serve them at someone’s birthday dinner. I want to be that kind of cook. Would I have any friends left if I did?

Either way, I’m very glad I bought the book.  And who knows, maybe I really will make a Warm Pig’s Head Salad one day. For right now, I’m out of here – I have to get to the store and buy some rhubarb.  I’m going to start building my Mother tonight.


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