Ah, the struggles of a book reviewer! The only way to verify a cookbook’s ability to convey recipe details is to try out at least one in the home kitchen. So, while the fragrance of a successful batch of now-cooling cookie bars wafts over the writing desk, it’s time to get down to business: should you waste some of Kentucky’s finest to stir into what’s found in these pages? Would the price of this book be better spent on a pretty-good bottle of bourbon?
Fortunately, readers are in good hands with author Hulsman. As a Kentucky native writing from New York City, she pushes family nostalgia and modern-foodie passion together in chapter introductions, sidebars and wherever she can inject her personality. But it isn’t all about her—Hulsman knows of what she speaks, and writes.
The compact size of this book will fit in every kitchen. Its layout is traditional: recipes by general category (cakes, puddings, candies, etc.). There are impressively substantial sections for “Syrups, Sauces and Toppings” and “Compotes, Chutneys, Spreads and Preserves.”
Page 71 is likely to be the first to be dog-eared—it’s where the author placed her short guide to making Bourbon Whipped Cream, and suggestions for its use are all over the book. But the nine chapters are ripe for random perusal, with confidence that there will be delightful, serendipitous finds—not just the recipes but also bourbon history and trivia, general kitchen advice and little vignettes of memoir.
Each chapter covers a full range from the simple to the complex, but there are some definite trends going on here: numerous concoctions depend on adjusting the reactions between acidic and dairy ingredients, and there are lots of pages that employ vanilla, ginger, apple, maple, and other natural complements to the deep and rich flavor of bourbon. Hulsman is a convivial and self-effacing companion through this culinary journey (sample: “Keep a close eye on them: I’ve burned more than one batch by getting distracted.”).
The single stretch of 14 color photos show attractive dishes, but in homey settings that make everything here seem to be within reach of even novice cooks as long as they’re game to experiment. The best place to start might be with one of the many comfort-food variations, such as the Southern classic Banana Pudding with Vanilla Wafers (…and if you want to know which part of this dessert gets spiked with bourbon, it’s both).
Cookbook enthusiasts already know whether they prefer theirs to be all-business, and there’s no doubt that this one falls a bit toward the chatty. At the same time, discussions of syllabubs and possets among these pages will provide a learning experience to many a modern foodie. But to the author herself, this book would seem to have been an ideal project with which to celebrate her Grandma Rose (who apparently could whip up an amazing knock-off version of Derby Pie) and to spread the word about bourbon as a very special flavoring and ingredient.