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So much more than a cookbook...
on October 19, 2011
It's really tempting to think of Jennifer Reese's 'Make the Bread, Buy the Butter' as a cookbook - but quite honestly, it's so much more than that. And if you consume it like you would a cookbook (piecemeal) than you'll be seriously missing out. The book came out of Reese being laid off from her job during the economic crisis a few years ago. Confronted with financial woes and general frustration towards corporate America, she decided to start experimenting with homemade foods. Eventually (or perhaps immediately, as a means to a financial end) she compiled these experiences and successful recipes into a book.
There are roughly a dozen sections in the book that cover everything from raising livestock (chickens, turkeys, ducks, goats, and bees have all been denizens of Reese's backyard at one point) to the experience of whipping up simple dishes (croutons) and complex creations (danishes). Almost every recipe - or lack thereof, since some of her experiments were failures - is accompanied with an anecdote. And that's what truly sets this book apart. I genuinely recommend you read it from cover to cover first, with the understanding that you will want to jump up and make a million of the dishes along the way, because that way you not only get some entertainment value and storytelling (her family is well characterized), you also get a good gauge as to what type of person Reese is, and how manageable her recipes and foodie adventures would be if you tried adapting them for your own lifestyle.
The bonus benefit of this book - or perhaps simply the core benefit - is the way it skewers the industrial food system. Every recipe is prefaced by three bullet points: should you make it or buy it? how much hassle is it? what's the cost compared to store-bought? Of course, on the latter point in particular, cost shouldn't be your primary factor: a lot of Reese's recipes focus on the nutritional benefits (avoid preservatives, trans fats, and other nasty shelf stable food staples) and the actual taste benefits. Even if something costs a little more than store bought, she might recommend you make it at home because the taste is so much better. But she's also willing to take a few hits - sometimes her recipes simply can't beat store-bought, and she wholly accepts that the convenience of grocery foods isn't to be messed with. Sometimes.
Two minor knocks against the book: one, it has no pictures (again, why I see it as more of a memoir than a cookbook). Two, it has no nutritional information - although her arguments against shelf preservatives are pretty solid. Despite those two things, I loved this book, and the first recipe I tried was a wild success. I'm not going to recommend it as the be all and end all for making everything by yourself at home, mostly because the gamut of recipes included here are a little random and based on Reese's personal preferences. But the combination of storytelling, the no-nonsense approach to recipes, and the sheer level of inspiration you'll feel while paging through this book *easily* make it a worthwhile buy.