It was the pull of the pig that drew me towards The Whole Hog Cookbook. Promising “chops, loin, shoulder, bacon and all that good stuff“, author Libbie Summers draws on childhood memories of her grandparents’ hog farm together with “modern sensibilities [that] lend new twists to beloved dishes“.
As the front flap declares, “the best way to honor an animal like the pig is to appreciate every part“.
The book starts with an introduction to the strengths and characteristics of various heritage breeds of pig before sharing recipes divided into chapters for loin, Boston shoulder, bacon, spare ribs, picnic shoulder, leg, offal and slices. The names of these cuts remind you immediately that the book is an American one, though there are plenty of websites that will help you translate the names of cuts to their UK equivalents.
That said, the recipes themselves take inspiration from all around the world, including Hangover Irish Crubeens, Spaghetti alla Carbonara (made with guanciale) and Pork Osso Buco, Serrano Ham Croquettes and Rioja Potatoes, Summers’ Aunt Setsuko’s Ham Fried Rice, Crispy Thai Pork Belly, West Indian Pork Roti, Cuban Pork Roast… Someone needs to tell Summers, though, that the “scotch” in scotch eggs doesn’t mean they’re Scottish, as she’s called them!
And of course, there are many American-inspired recipes, gleaned from all across the country and adapted and refined by Summers. I’m tempted by lots of them, including Prodigal Chocolate Pig (a moist chocolate cake featuring bacon and rum), Buttery Potted Ham, Sweet Tea-Brined Pork Roast, Grilled Summer Corn Soup, her grandma Lula Mae’s Double Cola-Braised Pork Shoulder, Citrus Sugar Rubbed Ribs, Southern Peanut Soup, Savoury Mushroom and Bacon Bread Pudding…
Summers also provides a number of recipes for side dishes and condiments such as Clementine Prosecco Marmalade, Buttermilk Biscuits, Stout Mustard, Lemon Mint Mashed Potatoes, Creole Mayo, Moon Gate Bacon Jam, Lemon Thyme Custard, Applesauce, Hot Guava Dipping Sauce, Banana Chutney, Butt-Kickin’ Ketchup…
I think I might leave the Hot Peppered Pickled Pig’s Feet for someone more adventurous though!
I’ve already taken inspiration from Summers’ South Cackalacky Spare Ribs recipe, though I created my own recipe for the Cackalacky sauce, I used Summers’ rib rub recipe, on beef instead of pork. And I’d never have heard of Cackalacky if not for the book.
Choosing between two baking recipes, Pete’s disdainfully raised eyebrows at the thought of sweet scones ruled out the Rosemary Bacon Scones (which also feature white chocolate), and I decided to make the Bacon Banana Cookies instead.
Immediately, I was confronted with the other weakness of the book (from my British point of view) – it’s use of cup measures instead of weights/ volumes. Whilst a cup of sugar is quick and simple, a cup of peanut butter is much more of a pain.
Luckily, Summers doesn’t drive me to complete distraction and mostly lists ingredients such as fruit and vegetables more rationally with numbers of carrots or bananas, though she occasionally refers to onions by cup after peeling and dicing, which surely depends on how small I dice? And gives me no guidance on how many onions to purchase in the first place. I realise cups are easier for those who grew up with them, and one gets better at estimating how much to buy with experience, but it strikes me as a dreadfully inaccurate way of measuring for certain ingredients and also makes it difficult when purchasing unfamiliar ingredients.
So what did we think?
Pete wasn’t convinced by the flavour combination of banana and bacon – he didn’t dislike it but didn’t particular fall for it either. I loved it but would increase the amount of bacon to bring it out even more.
We both agreed that the texture was far too bread-like, and not at all in keeping with a cookie. And although the recipe advises that the cookies will keep for 5-7 days, after less than 24 hours in a plastic box (into which they were placed after they had completely cooled down for a few hours) they had already become more soggy!
We can’t recommend this recipe as it stands, however, I liked the flavours enough to be open to trying the combination again, if I can find a better recipe.
If you have any advice on how to bring banana and bacon together in a cookie that has a texture more like the traditional slightly chewy centred American cookie, please let me know!
Libbie Summers’ The Whole Hog Cookbook is published by Rizzoli International Publications, who sent a review copy for Kavey Eats.