Cookbook Review: The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making.

The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making. by Alana Chernila is ultimately a strange and frustrating book. I say this reluctantly because there are many very good things about this book. The photos are lovely, she uses just enough personal shots of herself and her kids to make you care about her family without being too cloying and the food pictures are beautiful.
The author is, in many ways, the best sort of new home-maker, seeking to stretch her budget and encourage people to re-think the way we get our food in America. On balance, she doesn't preach- too much- she's just leading by example, and sometimes, the results can be completely mouthwatering.
Most recipes are preceded by an essay from the author's food and lifestyle blog Eating From The Ground Up which is a whole lot of fun. The essays are generally engaging, but I think I would like to have seen fewer of them. Some, like 'Car Snacks- or- the most important meal of the day' feel like filler. They aren't particularly interesting and while they might have made for an ok blog post, many of these essays just don't add much in terms of furthering the mission to get readers to make more of their own foods.
The book is organized into chapters on Dairy, Cereals, Snacks, Spreads, Soups, Pasta, Frozen Food, Crackers, Bread and Candy.  I get the sense that making her own cheeses, yogurts, butter etc. is something the author is very excited about. These recipes, the accompanying essays and photos are bubbling over with exuberance The author is clearly in love with making her own pasta, and lasagne especially, all of which makes for good copy and good recipes. 
In some of the other categories of food, however, the author relies very heavily on small alterations of other's work that don't amount to much either instructionally, or from a culinary perspective. For example, the bread recipes are lifted directly from another cookbook and from King Arthur Flour. Since there are so many amazing bread cookbooks out there, I think the author would have done better to stick to those ideas that are really hers i.e. her Burger Bun recipe and her husband's Pizza and just leave out the regular bread recipe altogether.
Lastly, there are some editorial problems, while instructions for yogurt are very complete, those for tortillas are confusing. The page mentions the various types of lard and shortenings you can use for tortilla-making but the recipe the author gives is just pressed flour and water (which might be the recipe for communion wafers...)
I think ultimately my quarrel with this book is that it is just a bit of a manual for making one's own foodstuffs (with nothing more difficult than pasta), just a bit of a parenting book, just a bit of a Western Massachusetts locavore book and not a very comprehensive guide to anything. It is pretty & very engaging, and probably worth owning just for the fun of it, but its not really going to show you a pathway to making, rather than buying, your basic foodstuffs.

1 comment:

  1. Hey! I have an old book a little like this... called simply: Make Your Own Groceries
    I've been working my way through a cookbook called: Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. Interesting, gives a good base of what makes up the basic recipe (mostly about baking).


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