Whiskey Books for the Holidays, Part 3December 9th, 2013
Another review of a whiskey book for your holiday shopping, this time a cookbook for the American whiskey lover.
Pickles, Pigs, and Whiskey
by John Currence
2013, Andrews McMeel Publishing
John Currence, James Beard Award winning chef of the City Grocery Restaurant Group in Oxford, Mississippi, has a lot to say in this book about how you should cook and how you should eat: he’s disdainful of low-fat stuff, and adamant that you should not use pre-ground black pepper (“It is disgusting and in almost no way representative of the flavor of freshly ground”). But at the same time, he likes some things that must give foodies fits: French’s yellow mustard, Duke’s mayonnaise, Vlasic sweet pickle relish. I like that a lot about Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey; Currence has opinions, and he states them boldly. Besides, any man who has a portrait that shows him lovingly hugging a barrel of Old Fitzgerald in his cookbook is a guy I at least want to meet.
Did I dump you into the book too abruptly? Get used to it; this book goes from 0 to 60 in about three paragraphs, and Currence steers it down country roads, well over the speed limit, dust clouds flying and music jamming the whole way. Every page is packed with information: cooking tips, music suggestions (there’s a Spotify playlist for the book if you want (hint: Currence really wants you to do it)), and beautiful photos of food that show you just what it looks like before cooking, during cooking, or when it’s plated; I refer you to “A Note On Making Roux” on page 42 as an example. You can almost picture his editor running away with the manuscript and Currance chasing them shouting, “Hold on, I got one more thing!”
Pickles: Currence reminds me of a favorite store in Pennsylvania Dutch country in that he’ll pickle anything that gets too close to vinegar. You’re looking at recipes for pickled grapes, lemon, watermelon rind…and then there’s pickled duck legs and pig’s ears. And he does such a good job with the words and the pictures, flying down the road with the pedal to the metal, that you want to make them. At least, I do, and I think he could probably teach the Dutchmen a thing or two.
Pigs? You’re not going to learn how to cook pork or ham or sausage dishes, you’re going to learn how to make bacon, smoke hams, stuff sausage (and learn why technique really makes a difference), and then make the sauces that go with them. Sure, you could buy all that stuff, but Currence wants you to understand why the stuff is good…and maybe improve it. As he says, there is a lot of room in the margins for you to make your own corrections and betterments on his recipes. “Secret,” he says in a parenthetical note: “they can all be done better.”
Whiskey? Did you think I’d forget? Currence didn’t: where many other cookbooks I’ve read (I’m looking at a full wall-unit bookshelf full of them, and there are more downstairs, I like cookbooks) tuck cocktails away at the end, “Stirring, Shaking and Muddling” is the first chapter, illustrated with Currence and Preston Van Winkle looking at barrels in the Buffalo Trace warehouse. He drinks wine with food, he says, and has beer when he’s fishing, but the chef is a flat-out whiskey man: bourbon, scotch, cocktails, and no fooling around on the quantities. Love of bourbon floats through the whole book, and it keeps you smiling.
This is usually the part of a review where I find one or two things to nitpick about a book I like. I only have one complaint: I found it hard to keep up! Every now and then I had to pull over and have a breather, stretch my legs a bit before jumping back in the pickup and taking off on Currence’s wild ride. There’s so much here, though…and as he says, always read the recipe through first. Common advice, but with this one, you might want to read through the whole book first, and get marinated in his cooking flavor. It’s worth the bumps and jumps and thumps along the ride.
When I saw the cover of the book, and the title, and the now-seemingly obligatory pictures of Currence drinking Pappy Van Winkle, I was skeptical. Don’t be. This is the honest item, and I’m going to be cooking Southern for a while, grinding fresh pepper, having opinions and writing notes…and building a drink first. Great read!