So, for my next installment of “Cookbook Reviews and Bibliomancy,” I want to introduce one of my favorites: Heart of the Home, by Ann Jackson. Relatively obscure and hard to find (I had to special order mine from Malaprops), this book was published in 1995 and re-released in 2000. The book was introduced to me by Cathy Cleary of the West End Bakery. It seems that Ms. Jackson and I are of the same mind when it comes to food: recipes must be simple and intuitive, but fresh and innovative at the same time. I love the recipes, which are all vegetarian and often include vegan options, but what I love the most about this cookbook is the commentary, quotations, the copious ironic 50’s housewife vintage clip art throughout, and the hilarious stories that precede most recipes. The recipes are flexible, too, encouraging the cook to substitute, experiment, and above all, be practical. Ms. Jackson is undeniably country, Tennessee country at that, and nothing says country like the utilitarian home economy demonstrated in these recipes.
There are sections for “Salads and Dressings,” “East Tennessee Favorites” (where you will find step by step instructions for vegetarian collards, hoppin’ john, and red eye gravy, and the cornbread recipe that I use- “Flawless Cornbread”- which is flawless, every time.) There’s sections for vegetables, grains, a WHOLE section for sauces and gravies, with no fewer than 17 different sauces and gravies (I mean, really, without the benefit of sausage, that’s alot of different kind of gravies). My favorite from that section is the “White Woman’s Barbeque Sauce” which includes fresh grated ginger juice, molassas, cayenne, and miso, among many other things. There’s a pie section, a “main courses” section, and one for soups and one for “leftovers.” The sections on “Outdoor Cooking” and “Bag Lunches for Bag Ladies, or, A Little Something for a Truck Driving Man” are excellent, funny, and smart. But of course, my favorite sections are the “Breads” and “Sweets” sections, with the best Old-Fashioned Gingerbread recipe ever. I used to make that gingerbread recipe when I was pregnant, and eat the whole damn thing. In an hour. Molasses is really good for you when you are pregnant. But, above all this, my very very favorite thing about this cookbook is the last two pages: The “Household Hints” section. I’ll give you a sample from household hint #15: “What if the oven blows up in your face? This can be hectic. This is also the reason that good cooks have an aloe vera plant around the house…. Try not to let the experience scare you. Go right back into the kitchen, otherwise, you may never bake another apple pie for as long as you live.”
Friends, Heart of the Home is a warm and sweet creation from a cook after my own heart. The book is quirky, kooky, and it has as its base the understanding that the highest form of cooking is cooking for those you love.
And Now For The Bibliomancy (where I flip through the pages with my eyes closed and randomly choose a recipe or passage that will have some kind of deep occult meaning for all of us):
“When I make tortillas I flash back to an ancient lifetime, a brown wrinkled old lady squatting in front of a fire, rolling out tortillas on a rock. It seems every culture has its own version: crepes, strudel, pasta, shortbread, hoecakes, dumplings, chapati, biscuits, pancakes, knish, and pirogi. I love recipes that haven’t changed in 5,000 years. Some are a lot easier than others, but most of them are pretty simple, made from basic peasant type food. Tortillas are my favorite, here’s how to do it…”
That’s all, friends. Stay tuned for more in this series, as well as another series I’m contemplating starting: Profiles In Cake. or something like that. Basically, just interviews with my favorite cake ladies. more soon, mwah.