Author: Josh Kilmer-Purcell, Brent Ridge, & Sandy Gluck
Publisher: Rodale Books
Publication Date: September 10th, 2013
Read: February 2014
Where It Came From: eARC from publisher via NetGalley*
Rating: 3.75 Rocky Road Potstickers
This charming dessert cookbook, written by two New Yorkers who left the city and moved upstate to run a farm/restaurant/I’m-not-really-sure-what in Sharon Springs, is sweet vintage eye candy. “Beekman 1802” is apparently the name of authors Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge’s farm, not a year or a family name, and the seasonality of life there is a big part of their offerings in this book. As they explain in their introduction, they believe an heirloom recipe is not simply one that has been passed down through generations, but one that has its own sort of mythological place in the imagination and family history. For me, an example would be the Watergate Salad of my grandmother’s that evokes so many memories of holidays spent around her big dining room table. As you read this, maybe you’re thinking of some similar types of treats that you associate with family, friends, and contentedness. This book seeks to gather heirloom desserts from the authors’ own memories, along with some new ones they’ve created, to pass on to readers and hopefully aid in creating more food-memories around the table to be passed down to future generations. Pretty neat.
The recipes? Awesome. They run the gamut from the fairly simple, such as caramel apples, to deeper cuts of the dessert canon, like orange-chocolate pots de crème and buttermilk pie. This is probably not (or maybe very, depending on your point of view) a good book to read while hungry, because you may find yourself devouring all the Girl Scout cookies in the house as you imagine making and eating the things on these pages. I love the emphasis on the seasonality of food found here, which was something I never truly appreciated or understood until I spent some time in Japan, and have strived to keep in my life since. The book is divided into four sections, one for each season, with the heirloom dessert recipes arranged accordingly. For winter, some of the ones that caught my eye were the Vanilla Panna Cotta Surprise (spoiler alert: the surprise is lemon curd!), the more-modern-than-vintage Chocolate Rocky Road Potstickers, and the Winter Kabocha Squash Pie (my undying love for kabocha previously recorded). The Creamsicle Angel Food Cake and the Three-Citrus Crème Caramel from the spring section had me dreaming of warmer days and blooming daffodils, while the Sweet Green Tomato Handpies and Honey Ice Cream recipes made me long for the kinds of summer picnics one can indulge in when one does not live in the prohibitively hot low desert. Autumn has its share of goodies as well, with a Pancake Cake with Maple Cream Frosting riff on millefeuille and a Steamed Persimmon Pudding topping my list of must-tries. Yum, yum, and YUM.
The photography in the book is sumptuous and rich, with a vintage, rural rusticity. Think barn weddings and Etsy, and you’ll have the proper aesthetic in mind. The many images are gorgeous and evocative of the slower rhythms of life with the ebb and flow of the seasons in the countryside. However. If you’ve read any of my other cookbook reviews, you know that I really like to have a photo of the finished product for each recipe included in the book. In many cookbooks this doesn’t happen, and as long as there are photos for most of the recipes, I can deal. It frustrates me a little, though, when there is space that could easily be used for a photo of a recipe and it is instead used for a photo of something else. For example, the facing page of their Lemon Meringue Pie recipe is indeed a full-page photo, not of pie, but of a stack of baking tins and lemons. Beautiful? Yes. But why not showcase the food we’re actually making? Being able to visualize something I’ve never cooked before is usually pretty helpful to me, and I think others probably feel the same. For example, that persimmon pudding I mentioned earlier—I’ve never made a British-style pudding in my life. Never used a pudding mold, never steamed a baked good, nothing. A picture of the hopeful result, and not one of artfully arranged copper molds, would certainly help my confidence going in. There are also full-spread photos of ingredients or things being prepared sprinkled throughout the book with no relation at all to the recipes preceding or following them! Again, very pretty to look at, but also a bit confusing. Sigh.
I also think the writing could be stronger. I may be the only weirdo in the world who takes this into account when reviewing a cookbook, but there you have it—the quality of writing in anything I send to my neurons for processing is important to me. To be clear, it’s not bad by any means, but I just feel it could be boosted up a level. Occasional wonk and typos (my own included) make me sad. Or giggle. I guess it depends. At the end of the intro, the authors talk about how the secret ingredient of these recipes isn’t sugar, but rather “a magical dust that when liberally sprinkled has the power to enrapture us.” And I was like, magical dust? What is this magical dust? Love? MSG? Cocaine?!? Tell me!!! I get that they mean love…tradition…heirloominess…stuff like that. But the wording and follow-through on the metaphor just seemed very literal…I was amused. But what do I know? Maybe they really do have a magic dust to make food awesome at Beekman 1802!
The header text for each recipe, like the introduction, is short and sweet, which I liked very much. A little bit about the background and inspiration, and then on to the recipes! The recipes themselves proceed in order, with steps unnumbered. On rare occasions there was a lack of clarity, such as in the Lemon Meringue Pie recipe, which has the step instructing you to put the filling in the pie shell missing. On the one hand, yeah, duh, you can figure it out, but on the other, if you’re taking the time to write a book about cooking, why not be thorough and clear? There were also some instances where I thought a little more information might’ve been helpful—what is a tube pan, for instance? Where can I find espresso powder? Can I substitute brewed espresso or strong coffee instead? Are Famous Chocolate Wafers a brand? Where would you recommend I find goat’s milk yogurt? How much vanilla extract could I use to sub in for a vanilla bean? I think the inclusion of things like that to provide options for home cooks could’ve been nice.
Despite these concerns, I really enjoyed the book overall. When it comes down to it, cookbooks are about the quality of their recipes, and the food here sounds fantastic and looks delicious. Other neat little touches I enjoyed were the seasonal quotes in each section, the space to write notes for each recipe to help make it your own, and the place for writing in one of your own family’s heirloom recipes for each season. I also learned some cool stuff—did you know that sugarplums aren’t really plums rolled in sugar, but rather dried fruits and nuts rolled into balls? I didn’t. How about that German chocolate cake isn’t actually from Germany, but instead takes its name from a brand of chocolate? Who knew!
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, or like vintage stuff, or fantasize about a simple life in a bucolic setting, this book is right up your alley. Desserts for all tastes can be found here, and damned if it doesn’t make me want to buy a farm and go live a pastoral life celebrating the farm-to-table movement (or at least turn on the Decemberists and sit in my backyard on a warm evening eating one of these vintage-inspired treats).
*As ever, much as we are grateful for the copy, our review is uninfluenced by its source.