Good morning!

It’s finally February, and the daffodils are cautiously poking their noses up from the leaf litter. Somewhere, there is a snowdrop or a hellebore blooming, but I haven’t found it yet. The hardy camellias are still thinking about filling their Spring bloom dance cards. Gardening folks here in historic Old Greenbelt are hitting the “buy” button on seed orders, attending seed exchanges like Washington Gardener’s and looking forward to the local plant swap. Spring is so close and so distressingly far away!

Of course, the farmers that come to the Greenbelt Farmers Market have already made their plans and gotten seeds into the soil, wherever it is not frozen solid. The 2015 market season opens May 10, and one of the first special guests will be local food writer, teacher and author, Cathy Barrow of Mrs.Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen fame.

If you give serious thought to where your food comes from, and the ecological and economic impact of supporting small and local businesses, Cathy’s book is a good read. The recipes are enticing, because, well, every recipe Cathy publishes is enticing.

I wrote this review for Ceri Jones of Natural Kitchen Adventures, and she graciously let me republish it here.

Mrs Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry

Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, by Cathy Barrow, 2014, WW Norton, available at your local bookseller and on Amazon.com.

When Cathy Barrow’s much-anticipated book, Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, thumped down on my doorstep, I was beside myself with glee. I’d been hearing about the book for more than a year, and at last, here it was – thick, heavy and gorgeous!

Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry is a comprehensive guide to canning food, with measurement conversion charts handily placed on the end papers, clear, thorough instructions, and glorious photographs. The book is divided by preservation method – water bath; pressure canning; salt, water, smoke and air; and a final chapter on preserving milk by making cheese. Cathy’s wit, calm voice and enthusiasm shine through every page. It’s like having her at your elbow, doling out tidbits, advice, and assurance.

Cathy began her blog Mrs Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen in 2009, and between that and teaching (I took a charcuterie class from her that was a life changer), the idea for the Practical Pantry was born.

In her longer-than-usual introduction, Cathy writes in an authentic voice and hits the high notes of the things that I care about: carefully grown ingredients, thoughtful consumerism, lightening one’s footprint on the earth.

Cathy tells about her journey from the occasional canning of family favorites to beginning to look at the grocery store produce grown in another hemisphere. She began to think about the impact of hauling food all that way, the packaging and the quality of the food itself. Cathy began to shop at farmers markets, speaking with the producers, making note of the parade of fruits and vegetables as the seasons progressed. Books on food preserving became her bedtime reading.

As she read and canned, Cathy began to draw a connection between home canning and having a pantry plan that was organized and thoughtful. Now she and husband Dennis (“Without whom there would be no Mrs. Wheelbarrow” – what a delightful dedication) eat from the pantry all year long.

As you read through the Practical Pantry, one thing will lead to another, and as Cathy suggests, a plan for your own practical pantry will emerge.

There are plenty of recipes, and plainly put, they rock. From basic tomato sauce to “quickles” to conserves to duck confit, there are practical and fanciful offerings for satisfying meals compiled from the pantry shelves. You’ll be welcome at any event with Cathy’s potluck standouts. If you are a capsicum fan, you will be thrilled to know that she is, too.

As is proper in a book on food preservation, Cathy devotes a lot of space to food safety. In level-headed terms, she states the basic rules, then clearly explains why the rule is there.

I can hardly contain myself, just reading the recipes, and come next canning season, I’ll just set up a cot beside the kitchen door so I don’t waste any time going up and down the stairs!

I have a shelf full of cookbooks about canning and preserving. Cathy’s book shoves most of them into the “donate to the library sale” box.