September, when we are still working to preserve our summer fare amidst the first rains of fall, brings books on harvesting and preserving. Let's enjoy these last of the summer-oriented cookbooks and also: Cookbook Season! September, October, and November bring a bumper crop of new cookbook releases. Keep an eye out next month for a special edition of On the Table, where our marketing and order office crew are planning a potluck photo shoot featuring recipes from the October new releases. As befits such a big release month, there will be twice as many reviews for October.
These are the rain-filled sunshine days that find many people on their hands and knees in forest and meadow searching for mushrooms. It's also the perfect time to bring out Shroom. Shroom is a mouthwatering and sometimes funny book. Many mushroom cookbooks are serious and dry, but Seattle author and chef Becky Selengut is chatty, enthusiastic, and sometimes hilarious about her topic. You can tell she has actually cooked the recipes and really knows what she is talking about. She offers tips in the body of the recipe, in case you have questions while cooking, almost like she is in the kitchen with you. Shroom goes above and beyond recipes, with harvesting, cleaning, and extra facts about each profiled mushroom. As befits a book written by a cooking instructor, each profiled mushroom has recipes geared to the beginning, middle, and advanced cook. The photography, by Seattle food photographer Clare Barboza, is beautiful.
Our modern agriculture system makes it so we can have apples all year long, but those of us with apple trees in our yards know there is only one time of year when those apples become ripe. I must have already picked a couple hundred apples, and those are just from the branches that hang over the neighboring fence. Rowan Jacobsen (Geography of Oysters) has written an engaging gardening book/cookbook that is a true delight. Apples of Uncommon Character presents the history and characteristics of 123 carefully chosen apples. The descriptions are almost lyrical and a pleasure to read. Each apple comes with its own full-page photo, beautifully shot in natural light by Clare Barboza. Topping off Apples of Uncommon Character are recipes with specific apple recommendations. I love the surprising readability of this book. It should be tucked into the backpacks of all apple festival goers. I really can't recommend this book enough.
September is the time of year we begin to panic about the amount of fruits and vegetables piling up in the kitchen and yard. Luckily, there are two recent releases on fermenting. Those new to this fizzy style of preserving will like The Everyday Fermentation Handbook (subtitled: "A Real-Life Guide to Fermenting Food — without Losing Your Mind or Your Microbes"). Author Branden Byers starts out with the how and why of fermentation before unleashing the recipes. Starter recipes are sauerkrauts and kimchis, moving on to more complex recipes, including cheese and beverages. (Mmmmm, mead.) Oregon authors Kirsten and Christopher Shockey bring us Fermented Vegetables. This also includes notes for beginners, but goes more intensely into the process. The recipes are a little more adventurous. I'm particularly taken with a recipe for rösti that makes use of celeriac kraut and kohlrabi kraut. Coming in at almost 400 pages, you get plenty of recipes to choose from.
It's time to get fancy with fermentation. Cultured Foods for Your Kitchen steps up into the gourmet range by mixing fermented foods into other recipes, such as Cheesy Kimchi Pancakes. Author Leda Scheintaub includes the basic recipes, but if fermenting isn't your style, she encourages using store-bought as well. I'm super happy to see a recipe for teff flatbread, as I have been trying to perfect my injera recipe for years. (In fact, I've already made this recipe. And I'm here to say that when the author tells you to use filtered water, you had really better use it. Oh, I had the filtered water, sitting right there on the counter. I probably had to push it out of the way to get to the tap water. My teff had good flavor, but was missing some springiness due to the tap water killing off the microbes. I'll give it another try, using the filtered water That Is Sitting Right There on My Counter!)
Sometimes you think there is nothing new (food-wise) under the sun. Then a cookbook walks up and hits you in the face. Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times is such a cookbook. A shrub is a drink based on a macerated fruit or vegetable steeped in sugar and mixed with vinegar. Shrubs have a history hundreds of years old, but they have become almost extinct in America. Author Michael Dietsch includes a fascinating chapter on the history of this drink. About half of the recipes are alcohol free. The drinks are enticing: Fig-Cinnamon; Cherry-Mint, Meyer Lemon. The drink I'd most like to try first: Cranberry Sauce Shrub, with the unexpected ingredient of ginger. The photographs are lovely. Looking for the photographer's credit, I find the author's wife; Jenifer Hess was behind the camera. Dietsch goes on to explain that the photo shoots often included their eldest child unexpectedly getting into the camera's view. I'd love to see some of the photo outtakes!
One more review! It's not a cookbook... sorry! Every day there is a food festival somewhere. Eat the Year is a compendium of "national" food holidays, one for every day of the year. Some of these aren't officially recognized national holidays, but author Steff Deschenes (who lives in the East Coast Portland — which is also regarded as a pretty good food town) has based this list on what people seem to really be celebrating day by day. Included are a few alternative holidays, such as every Saturday before Labor Day: International Bacon Day. Be sure to get that on your calendars. The food holidays come with a short history and an appropriate quote from a variety of sources (Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Handy, Carl Sagan, Donkey from Shrek). I'm not too happy with what is celebrated on my birthday, so I'm switching it out to June 16, National Fudge Day. Maybe I'll double up on birthdays as I'm also pretty taken with National Butterscotch Pudding Day.