Albala & Henderson: Lost Arts of Hearth and Home

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The truth is that any book with the word “Luddite” in its title (or subtitle) is worth a look these days.

Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger Henderson‘s book, The Lost Arts of Hearth and Home: The Happy Luddite’s Guide to Domestic Self-Sufficiency (Berkley Publishing 2012) is a cornucopia of do-it-yourself home tasks – from cooking to sewing to gardening. It’s the equivalent of the Dangerous Book for Boys – but for adults who have the time and penchant to make their own vinegar or pomegranate molasses or braid their own rug.

This is a chatty, personal book written by the two married authors with a kind of joy and fun that is infectious. They start with a letter “To the Gentle Readers” imploring us to join them in rejecting the ready-made, fast world:

We like doing things the slower way–so that first and foremost food tastes good and the objects we live with are aesthetically pleasing and useful. Our tastes are decidedly old-fashioned, not to the point of rejecting everything modern, but saving those precious things most people never think of doing themselves anymore. (p. xii)

The idea is that you can, and you should do things for yourself, because it will bring you much pleasure.

The Lost Arts of Hearth & Home: The Happy Luddite's Guide to Domestic Self-Sufficiency, by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger HendersonEver wonder what pain au levain is in a French boulangerie? Well, the authors supply a recipe for making your own (p. 4) – basically harvesting wild yeast to make sour dough. If you want something more rustic, perfect for the autumn, try the Acorn Crepes (pp. 17-19). On the East Coast, gather white oak acorns, but in California get valley oak acorns. These aren’t recipes in the sense of so-and-so many cups of flour and water in a list with instructions. These are personal descriptions of what to do – more like an old cookbook of centuries past.

Don’t worry if you’ve broken them in the shelling process. Incidentally, you can use the little caps as a great whistle. With both hands, hold the open side of the cap underneath your parallel thumbs and tilt each thumb slightly outward until you form a little V-shaped opening just below your thumbnails. Put your thumb knuckles up to your lower lip and blow as hard as you can. If you get it right, it is piercingly loud. (p. 18)

Whistle while you work to keep everyone away!

The next chapter on Vegetables, Nuts, and Condiments, has a recipe for Stuffed Vegetables (p. 26) that only loosely gives you the idea of what to do – and yet, for many good home cooks – the lusty writing is enough to set a hankering for a good stuffed zucchini, like the one illustrated in a lovely drawing by Marjorie Nazfziger. Further on in the chapter is a recipe for Pickled Green Walnuts (pp. 41-42) and Pomegranate Molasses (pp. 42-43) just in case you find yourself with a bag full of pomegranates and a longing for Azerbaijani food.

The Lost Arts of Hearth and Home would make a great gift for your luddite relatives, but it is best to savor the fun writing and take on the projects yourself.

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