Spring Book Reviews – Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry


Today’s review is for a cookbook from my own shelves, Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, and no consideration was received for this post.

I first came across Cathy Barrow’s blog when she started Charcutepalooza with Kim Foster. I followed along, fascinated by the accomplishments of the group of bloggers working their way through Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. There’s no way meat-curing is going to happen in this apartment, between the tiny dog and M. Vegan, so experiencing charcuterie-making vicariously was just my speed.

I was particularly happy to find Cathy’s blog, Mrs. Wheelbarrow, because she makes better use of the best of each season than just about anyone else. Charcuterie might be the high-wire act of home preserving, but she also engages in earthier pursuits like canning, baking, and cheese-making – well, cheese-making is a bit on the wild side for most of us, too. I know it was pretty exciting territory for me, when I tried it.

I especially liked the way she demystifies home preserving and cooking for people who didn’t grow up with those traditions. My mother made pickles and jams, but home cheese-making and meat-curing weren’t on the radar of anyone we knew. The most exotic thing she made was canned trout, with my grandmother. Reading Mrs. Wheelbarrow made all these things seem possible and even part of a routine in the kitchen. This sensibility follows in Cathy Barrow’s cookbook, too.

In her introduction, she explains that it was a growing concern with food systems, waste, and health that led her first to canning, then to home preserving on a broader scale. Preserving has become a part of her everyday life and her cookbook is filled with the kind of information that makes it seem possible to accomplish that, too.

There are sections on safety, technique, and troubleshooting, but what really makes me want to get into the kitchen are her bonus recipes and her suggestions for using the preserves, pickles, cheeses, and charcuterie you’ll produce. There’s nothing worse that looking at a shining row of freshly canned preserves and wondering what you’re going to do with it all now.

Her base recipes for jams and pickles are worth the cost of the book, alone – they aren’t merely repeats of traditional ones. And once you have the book in hand, who knows? You may work through the meat-curing and cheese-making sections eventually. The gorgeous photos and intriguing descriptions might have you experimenting with gravlax and ricotta, then finding yourself setting up a smoker out back or creating a cheese cave.

At the very least, you can get some nice bacon from the butcher’s and try her Bacon-Onion Jam.

I’m looking forward to trying more of her jams, preserves, and pickles over the course of the summer. And I know I’ll try a simple recipe or two from the other sections. For now, though, I’m anxiously awaiting tomorrow, when I can start dipping into the jar of carrot, red pepper, and onion Quickles I made tonight (a version of which you can find here).

Come back next Thursday, May 7th for a review of a book full of heavenly aromas.