The Summer List:Books for weekend adventures, feeding friends, and enjoying the bounties of summer.
By Louisa Kasdon
I got into cooking because I couldn’t really draw, paint, or dance. And I hated most crafts. Cooking seemed like a perfect hobby—edible art that I could create in an afternoon or less. When done well, my creations rewarded me with smiles of appreciation, respect, and a fair amount of love. This season’s books from local authors are right in my sweet spot—DIY and deep dives into topics for those addicted to art that you can eat or drink.
The Farmstead Egg Guide & Cookbook By Terry Golson
Chef and food writer Terry Golson’s, The Farmstead Egg Guide & Cookbook is a little dangerous. Golson makes the idea of building chicken coops in your backyard seem easy. Why wouldn’t any sensible Bostonian want to raise chickens and have fresh eggs every day?
Golson’s book is divided into two parts: the first is an introduction to chicken-keeping that covers everything from building the coop, to how much noise hens make, to what to feed hens when you want to give them a treat. Golson writes about the intricacies of keeping a coop in cold weather and in warm weather, and of the incredible joy of eating fresh eggs from your own backyard. As I read this part of the book, I was mentally pacing off the backyard space for my brood and wondering if giving my neighbors a dozen or so eggs every month would mute their disapproval.
The second section of the book is well stocked with excellent technique tips for cooking eggs and lovely recipes for everything from popovers to eggnog, to a make-it-right-now Gremolata-Ricotta Frittata. Golson writes with a tone of reasonableness, encouragement, and confidence that makes raising chickens and turning out spectacular egg-centric dishes seem no more exotic that growing a pot of parsley on your windowsill.
Put ‘Em Up Preserving Answer Book By Sherri Brooks Vinton
This is DIY at its absolute best. It’s a spiral bound Q & A format guide for anyone who is interested in canning, freezing, drying, fermenting, or making infusions. Brooks Vinton tells you how to preserve the bounty of New England’s short but productive growing season—the fruits and berries, the vegetables, the gourds, even grape leaves! This book is granular, and the author is a pro. If you are thinking of a project, or series of projects this summer to preserve local food for the winter season, this book is indispensable. Her energy is addressed to very specific questions: What are the best containers to use in the freezer? How do I prevent my drying fruit from turning brown? Can I freeze cantaloupe? Is there anything I can do with beet greens? Help! The pressure in my canner is in the danger zone.
The book will give you confidence that if you are at the farmers market looking at a wall of raspberries or tomatoes, or your CSA goes wild with kale, there is a way to enjoy (at least some of it) when the memory of summer is a grey, cold mist. According to the cover page, Brooks Vinton offers 399 solutions to all your questions. I didn’t count them, but it’s likely that if you have a question about preserving and conserving this summer’s glories, you’ll want this book on the kitchen table.
Fresh From the Farm; A Year of Recipes and Stories By Susie Middleton
We all dream of chucking it all for a simpler life. Vineyard grower and food writer, Susie Middleton took the plunge. She waltzed out of a life of high heels and straight skirts to a life of farm boots and work gloves. She moved to Martha’s Vineyard, planted a small garden, fell in love with a carpenter, and together they renovated a farmhouse. Hooked yet? Before she caught her breath, she had enlarged the garden to a farm, then from a kitchen garden to a farm stand, and figured out how to break even in the process.
Middleton’s book is part memoir of a favorite foodie fantasy, and a lovely cookbook, with easy seasonal recipes that follow the seasons from Spinach, Basil and Pine Nut Pesto and Grilled Zucchini Antipasto, all the way into fall and winter Butternut Squash and Smoky Black Bean Burritos. Each recipe reads like a friendly conversation, with tips and substitutions, with Middleton’s charming first person memoir running like an endless conversation from page to page. I love the un-gimmicky, farm fresh recipes and the way the photographer and food stylists have collaborated to make each dish look scrumptious yet achievable. This is a perfect book to tuck into the duffel before you head off to a summer week of food, foraging, and cooking. Middleton’s memoir practically begs you to fantasize about a life far simpler than the one you have. Everything about this book is tempting. Especially the carpenter.
To Cook is To Love Nuevo Cuban: Lighter, Healthier Latin Recipes As told to John Verlinden
For anyone in the Boston area who was lucky enough to eat at the Mucho Gusto Café, and marvel at the crazy array of collectibles on the walls while stuffing their faces with tiny, trance-inducing bocaditos and broquetas, this book is special. It is the only Cuban cookbook written in Boston (as far as I know), and it channels all the raucous joy and bustle that I experienced in Havana. Chef Johnny has re-interpreted his mother-in-law, Mami Aida’s stories and recipes. At first, the book confused me. I couldn’t tell whose voice was whose. Johnny’s? Mami Aida’s? Was the context Mucho Gusto in Boston, or a hamlet just outside of Havana? 2007 or sometime in the mid-1950’s? Then, I stopped caring about the context and fell into the cadence.
It’s a cookbook with a terrific sense of humor and joie de vivre. And there is not one recipe that I’ve every made before and none that looked too complex to try. The recipes are a welcome Latino break from earnest, sensible farm-to-you cookbooks with fourteen creative ways to cook zucchini. Do any of us actually know how to make the roast pork (Pierna de Puerco Asada) for an authentic Cubano sandwich, or a Bistec en Cazuela, a beef stew made with green olives, raisins, cumin, and garlic? Or, how about Fufu de Platano Pinto, mashed semi-ripe plantains? The ingredients aren’t particularly exotic or hard to find, but the mixture of flavors and textures is otherworldly, unless your natural culinary vocabulary is Cuban, which mine is decidedly not. Fancy a vacation to Cuba but not enough time? Get this book, read it, make yourself a frosty pitcher of Sangria Cubano (recipe on page 69), and invite the friends over for a night with the Mambo Kings.
The last two books on my list are the beer books that will become your dog-eared summer companions. These are books that elevate the craft beer movement in New England into high culture. We may not be blessed by a fantastic wine climate but by-golly, our beer culture is booming.
Crafty Bastards: Beer in New England From the Mayflower to the Modern Day By Lauren Clark
Consider this fact: our local beer culture has 400 years of history, beginning with the Pilgrims. Who knew that the sober, first colonial settlers, the all-gray and no-fun Puritans, had to drop anchor in Plymouth because their ale supply was running low? Who knew that Cotton Mather, blustering from his pulpit, described hard cider as “a good creature of God”.
Lauren Clark has written a charming history of New England “suds”—beer, cider, ale, and any other alcoholic variations that could be made with locally-grown grains, grasses, and stalks. It’s a fascinating path that wanders from the very technical (yeast, alcohol content) to the political, with wonderful ethnic stereotyping coloring the rise and fall of market for local beer, and the centuries-long love-hate-forever relationship our region has had with joyful inebriation. I love Clark’s playful pokes at the tug-of-war between beer as the moderate alternative to “demon rum”, and the colonial illustrations of excessive drinkers sobering up in the stocks. The book starts early and runs till this very moment with fun profiles of some of the crafty bastards currently re-inventing the perfect pint in today’s not-so-sober New England.
The Great Northeast Brewery Tour By Ben Keene With forward by Garrett Oliver, editor, The Oxford Companion to Beer
The Great Northeast Brewery Tour is your best new guidebook for this summer—a tour guide with all necessary factoids, descriptions, and contact information for 62 craft breweries in New England. Imagine if those lyrical guides to California or French wine country had attitude—not the precious attitude of wine snobs, but the gutsy, in-your-face DIY attitude of these young, intelligent craft brewers. This would be the book. It’s meant for a season’s worth of driving tours, with friends and a powerful thirst. But it’s also an armchair introduction to the fast-growing world of the New England craft brewery community. Given the youthfulness of these breweries (most are under 5 years old), I imagine that the next edition of this guidebook could easily be twice as long. A comparison with the early days of the California boutique winery boom is easy to make. You’ll want to get on the road to these breweries while there’s still room in the parking lot.
Louisa Kasdon is the author of more than 500 published articles about food, restaurants, health, and business and the winner of the M.F.K. Fisher award for Excellence in Culinary Writing. She was the food editor for the Boston Phoenix/Stuff Magazine and a regular contributor to ZesterDaily.com. Kasdon is the founder and CEO of Let’s Talk About Food, letstalkaboutfood.com, an events-based organization that brings community and the public together around issues in our food system. She can be reached at Louisa@letstalkaboutfood.com.