Chatting to the UK arm of US publisher Rizzoli about titles I might like to review, the pull of the pig 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 online 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, on beef instead of pork. And I'd never have heard of Cackalacky if not for the book.
Intrigued by two baking recipes, the husband's disdainfully raised eyebrows at the thought of sweet scones ruled out the Rosemary Bacon Scones (which also feature white chocolate), so 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 little guidance on how much 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 many ingredients and makes it difficult when purchasing unfamiliar ingredients.
Bacon Banana Cookies
1.5 cups all purpose flour (plain flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
0.25 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1.5 teaspoon ground cinnamon
0.25 teaspoon kosher salt (large grained salt, a little like sea salt)
0.5 cup / 1 stick unsalted butter (113 grams)
1.25 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 bananas, mashed
0.5 pound bacon, cooked crisp, chopped (225 grams)
- Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C).
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, half teaspoon of the ground cinnamon and the salt.
- In a medium mixing bowl, use a hand mixer to cream together the butter and 1 cup of the sugar.
- Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until they are fully incorporated.
- Beat in the vanilla.
- Add the butter mixture to the flour mixture.
- Then stir in the mashed bananas, beating well after each addition.
- Fold in the bacon.
- Stir together the remaining quarter cup sugar and the remaining cinnamon and set aside.
- Drop the dough by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheet 1 inch apart.
- Sprinkle generously with the cinnamon sugar and bake for 10-12 minutes, until slightly browned.
- Allow the cookies to cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Cookies will keep for 5 to 7 days.
Note: I missed the instruction to separate out some of the sugar and ground cinnamon to sprinkle onto the cookies before baking, so they were mixed into the dough along with the rest.
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. But I loved it! I'd probably up the amount of bacon a touch more actually, to bring it out even more.
Where we both agreed was on the texture – far more bread or cake like than what we expect from a cookie.
Worst of all, 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 only after they had completely cooled down for a few hours) they were already a little soggy!
Sadly, I can't recommend this recipe as it stands, however, I liked the flavours enough to want to find a successful version.
(I might try it as a loaf of banana bread though, as I think that would work).
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 currently available from Amazon for £13.97 (RRP £19.95).