Book review: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese

The subtitle of this book is “What You Should and Shouldn’t Cook from Scratch — Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods,” and while lots of the recipes looked delicious (and the few I tried were exceedingly popular in my household), my favourite part of this book was the commentary about what foods are worth cooking up at home, and what foods should just be purchased instead.

Jennifer Reese is a funny and articulate writer, but more importantly, she is a dedicated do-it-yourself-er who sets out to try homemade versions of just about anything she can think of.  I think most of us who try to live sustainable city lives can relate to her struggles to figure out where to draw the line in terms of self-sufficiency.  In this book, she balances cost, effort and taste when deciding which foods are best made at home and which can be left to specialists.  Each recipe is rated based on the amount of hassle it takes, the tastiness of the results and a cost comparison between store-bought and homemade.    Here’s a sample of Reese’s scientific analysis of homemade vs. store-bought potato chips and orange-apricot conserve:

Orange-Apricot Conserve:  “Make it or buy it:  You can’t buy this jam.  Make it.
Hassle:  In the dictionary under “hassle” there should be a line drawing of a woman standing at a sweltering canning kettle, lifting out jars.
Cost Comparison:  You can’t really compare this with store-bought jam, as there is no product on the market like it.”

Potato chips:  “Make it or buy it:  Buy it.
Hassle:  I went through a box of Band-Aids and half a roll of paper towels one night because I didn’t heed warnings about mandoline safety.
Cost Comparison:  Homemade chips cost about $0.40 per ounce.  Lay’s classic potato chips:  $0.60 per ounce.”

I was stoked that Reese really spares no effort to thoroughly research her decisions.  She keeps bees, unsuccessfully experiments with keeping ducks in her laundry room, cures her own meat, makes her own hot dogs (verdict:  not worth it, in case you were wondering), makes a ridiculous amount of different cheeses, and keeps chickens and goats (“If rather than a lush green garden, you want your outdoor space to resemble a Third World village, I suggest getting some chickens, who will methodically denude the landscape of every blade of grass, low-lying weed, and wildflower.  And if you want to ride yourself of shrubbery and small trees as well, get goats.”).  She lives in a regular suburban neighbourhood, so her experiments are relatable for lots of us city dwellers, and I like her enthusiasm and willingness to experiment.  You get the sense reading this book that she is trying out all these different techniques for getting her food because she is excited about doing it, not because she wants to write a gimmicky book.

In all, you should grab this book at the library, as it is rad!  I liked how fun it was to read, and how useful the recipes are, but I also really appreciated reading about someone else’s internal battles over how to be sustainable and self sufficient, yet still realistic and sensible about what you can fit into your life.

On a similar note, I recently came across this article called The Homesteading Hypocrite.  The woman who wrote it discusses her battles with balancing her ideals with the inevitable messiness that is real life.  She talks about finding herself in situations that feel hypocritical or ridiculous (i.e. being too busy in the garden to have time to cook dinner, so having her partner pick up sushi), and struggling to live a life that conforms to her ideals but is still realistic.  I really dug her honesty and willingness to admit that sometimes we all fall short of our intentions.  It’s so much better to face up to this fact and decide where to go from there, rather than pretend that we’re all doing a perfect job of fulfilling all of ideals and ignore the parts of our lives that still need examination and work.

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