Cheers to the Publican: Repast and Present

This is a gorgeous book, unabashedly enthusiastic and wonderfully friendly. The detail is terrific – had I the resources to tackle any of the recipes included I have absolute confidence that I would be walked through it safely and successfully from start to finish.

I love the warmth of the book, the sheer contentment that breathes through the pages in the lives the authors have made for themselves, for the place that they’ve made and the community they’ve formed. It’s lovely. There’s even photographic proof throughout – the obligatory “here we are eating the things we’re telling you about” shots, as enviable and admirable as any I’ve seen. It all makes me want to become a regular at the Publican, and if I ever get to Chicago I’m definitely seeking it out.

One of my favorite things about the book is the series of profiles of “Friends of the Publican”, suppliers and other allies, each given a full page with a photo and a warm essay. It’s credit where credit’s due, in spades.

The poems are fun, too.

As a cookbook, though, it is largely aspirational. It isn’t tremendously useful to me, because as a foodie I’m frankly low-class. Between my paycheck and my lack of space, I won’t be following the directions (however clear and concise) to make my own sausage anytime soon. All throughout the text, the authors direct the reader to go to farmers’ markets, the finest suppliers, basically anywhere but the grocery store … Buy tomatoes from the guy who charges the highest prices. Don’t buy strawberries at the grocery store. Don’t buy eggs at the store. Don’t you dare buy fish at the store. In fact, have your trout flown in from San Francisco. Even the recipe that perked me up (I might be able to make this one!), calling for Yukon gold potatoes (I’ve heard of those!) specified “size C” potatoes, which … I didn’t know they were classified like that. Makes sense, I suppose, but …

I might be able to do the pork pies …

They do here and there almost apologetically bend, and say or the dates you get at the grocery store would be fine or something. And I find it delightful that in amongst the ingredients sourced from across the country and the world (not afraid of a carbon footprint, these chefs), they profess their loyalty to Hellmann’s mayonnaise. It’s adorable.

It’s actually kind of fun to read this point of view; it’s a little like reading a fantasy novel. These are people who live in as completely different a world from mine as Pern or Arrakis, and it’s all they know. Their first and only priority is food and feeding people, and they’re apparently unfamiliar with a lifestyle in which going out to eat is a rare luxury. I’m not condemning this – bless their hearts, long may they cook meals which cost what I get in a week’s paycheck. “As Herb says, it’s all about life, liberty, and the prosciutto happiness.” Cheers.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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