The Birdhouse Chronicles
My small-town roots keep me grounded no matter where I go in the world. I grew up in the proverbial small town, and like many, I just couldn’t wait to escape. So I did. At age 18, I began a journey that took me further and further away from that little place. By my mid 20s, I thought I had reached my destination: the fast and furious lane of life. Throughout these times, I wasn’t looking back because I thought my humble beginnings were, well, too plain. Instead, I opted for cocktail-party conversation heavily laden with talk of Ivy League colleges, investment portfolios, worldwide travel, blah, blah, blah. But my naiveté and inexperience waned (along with my youth) and nostalgia struck. With this life change came memories of the small-town charm, romance and most of all, simplicity. Forget the rush, fancy cars, high-paying jobs, big houses—I wanted plain and simple.
This story is not new. Countless “small towners” can spin the same tale in practically the same vein, including Cathleen Miller in her book, The Birdhouse Chronicles: Surviving the Joys of Country Life. But unlike others, Miller is a good storyteller. She is able to convey humor, joy and disappointment so succinctly in The Birdhouse that you want to stick around to see how it all turns out.
In her book, Miller and her husband, Kerby, journey to the countryside of Pennsylvania, leaving behind the lickety-split lifestyle of cosmopolitan San Francisco. Contrary to other Green Acres-type narratives in which city dwellers make a break for the rural life, Miller comes from a farming background—country is in her blood. So Birdhouse—part memoir, part travelogue and part nature writing—is from the heart. When Miller tells how she and Kerby adapt to their radical lifestyle change in a 100-year-old Pennsylvania farmhouse located in the middle of an Amish corn patch, she does it with perspective. She also does it with storytelling experience. Miller is an accomplished writer and currently teaches graduate nonfiction at the University of San Francisco (yes, she eventually left Pennsylvania, only to relocate to another agricultural community—albeit more glamorous—Napa, Calif.).
The Birdhouse Chronicles will remind you of the beauty and simplicity of small-town life. For some though, Miller’s words might hit home a little harder … “When I moved to the city, I left behind the girl I had been—along with all those memories—like tossing out a Goodwill box of embarrassing outfits. But in the past few years I’d grown weary of my sophisticated life… Longlingly I had begun to think of my simple childhood in the country, and decided it was time to do something about it…”
Cider: Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider
Most people will agree: Few things are cozier than sitting by the fire on a cold, late autumn night sipping a glass of hot apple cider. AnnieProulx and Lew Nichols know this, and take America’s growing love of cider one step further with their book Cider: Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider.
Written for cider lovers, Cider explains the fascinating history of cider making in America, noting the long tradition of this practice. The authors point out early on in the book that cider was the most popular beverage in America from 1872 to 1890.
Chapter one provides a basic, step-by-step description of the process of cider making, starting with the harvest. Sweating the apples to soften them for grinding is described in excellent detail, and thorough descriptions of washing, grinding, pressing, blending, testing and fermenting follow.
By the time you reach chapter two, you’ll have a good sense of the basics, and will be ready to learn how to create different types of cider. In subsequent chapters, you’ll discover how to choose the right apples and how to grow the best cider varieties for your climate. Details on starting a home orchard and maintaining it are particularly helpful.
Cider goes beyond just making this splendid drink, and provides recipes for soups and jellies, as well as instructions on how to make cider vinegar, apple brandy and applejack. The book also discusses the newly popular pastime of cider tasting, and provides growers with valuable information they can use to set up their own tasting opportunities for the public—such as the kind of glasses tasters will expect.
As if all this weren’t enough, the authors provide an entire chapter on the legal definitions of cider and how various regulations can affect individual makers.
Cider is a well-written and thorough book, with clear and concise coaching. Proulx and Nichols do a great job of blending the rich history of cider with the practical aspects of creating it. If you have an interest in cider making, this book will surely inspire you.
Maple Syrup Cookbook
When I think maple syrup, I think pancakes, waffles and French toast. Oh sure there’s the occasional doughnut, glazed with a maple-flavored confection, but what else can you use the sticky-sweet stuff for? Until now, my maple-syrup experience hadn’t extended beyond Aunt Jemima and her grocery-shelf companions. However, after reading Maple Syrup Cookbook by Ken Haedrich, I became enlightened. Not only does maple syrup go beyond pancakes at the breakfast table, it can complement many foods and any meal. With Haedrich’s compilation of recipes—he’s given us 100—you could use maple syrup in all of your dishes, with no one tasting quite like the other. For example, with the help of Haedrich’s cookbook, try maple-baked beans, crispy maple spareribs, steamed brown bread and maple-pecan pie for dinner—all made with, you guessed it, maple syrup.
In his book, Haedrich gives readers lots of fun tidbits including how maple syrup is made. He also points out that there is a significant difference between maple syrup and real maple syrup. The “real thing” is made by the evaporation of maple sap or by a maple sugar solution, and contains not more than 33 to 35 percent water. On the other hand, imitation maple syrup consists mostly of corn syrup and contains only two to three percent real maple syrup. So when Haedrich calls for maple syrup in recipes, he’scalling for the real deal.
In addition to production information, readers of Maple Syrup can find fascinating sugar-maker profiles, history and lore, syrup grading and uses, helpful cooking hints, sources, and of course, some great recipes.
If you do a lot of entertaining and like to incorporate “meal themes,” maybe maple will flavor your next soirée. Whatever the occasion, if you are looking for a fresh perspective on an old favorite, Maple Syrup would be an enjoyable addition to your cookbook library.
A Guide to Canning, Freezing, Curing & Smoking Meat, Fish & Game
Moving to the country can mean the absence of many modern-day conveniences. So if you have considered preserving and storing meat or fish, but are unsure about how to go about it—or have safety and freshness concerns—then A Guide to Canning, Freezing, Curing & Smoking Meat, Fish & Game by Wilbur F. Eastman Jr. might be the book for you.
First released in 1975, this is the third edition of Eastman’s book, which has been revised and updated to comply with the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture health and safety guidelines. In his book, Eastman provides readers with the pros and cons of preserving and storing meat, including techniques for safely freezing, canning, curing and smoking. He also passes along money-saving shortcuts and offers dozens of recipes such as beef jerky, pemmican, venison mincemeat, corned beef, bacon, Canadian bacon, smoked sausage, liverwurst, bologna, pepperoni, fish chowder, cured turkey and a variety of hams. Readers can also learn methods for pickling fish, beef and pork. In addition to step-by-step instructions and how-to illustrations, the book also includes directions and plans for building a smokehouse.
Eastman’s book is authoritative, with specifics on meat grading, cuts and uses, along with handy hints for thawing, freezing and refreezing. So regardless of your inclination toward preserving and storing, if you are a meat- or fish-eater you will probably find A Guide to Canning, Freezing, Curing, & Smoking Meat, Fish & Game a worthwhile tool.