The first thing that struck me about The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook, written by Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell with Sandy Gluck, is the very first page. There's a smartly designed book-plate that reads:
First Generation to Own This Book: ____________
I think the very first page of the book says a great deal about the mission and ethos behind the project, the recipes, and the vision. Brent and Josh have a 200-year old farm outside of tiny Sharon Springs, New York where they produce goat's milk soap, cheeses, and other artisanal products along with hosting dinners and events. After deciding they firmly believed in capturing the work that was happening on the farm, preserving the food traditions they were introducing, and celebrating the small community surrounding them, a cookbook seemed like the next logical step.
Now the Beekman boys will be the first to ask the question, "does the world really need another cookbook?" This fall, especially, seems to be a banner season for new releases including The Family Meal, Bi-Rite's Eat Good Food, Essential Pepin, Ruhlman's Twenty and The Food 52 Cookbook among many others. So what sets this one apart? Sure, it's organized by seasons and focuses on feel-good recipes with a sense of history. But a lot of cookbooks do this. I think the true thing that sets the Beekman Boys' book apart is the definitive aesthetic and design (highly visual, quirky, a little bit irreverent), the approachable and inspired recipes appropriate for novice and more experienced cooks alike, and their push for generational cooking. I like this last part a lot. It's why I'm really sold on this book.
The photography by Paulette Tavormina captures the almost-down-home nature of the recipes beautifully. Most dishes are basic comfort food with a twist, and the photos really convey a warm, lived-in quality that make you want to pull up a chair and settle right into an evening meal at the farm. As far as the recipes are concerned, there are some that stand out right away for me. I've bookmarked Pea Pod Risotto, Meatloaf Burgers, Buttery Peach Cake, and Rosemary Spiced Nuts. The recipes range from simple salads and soups to more substantial entrees, side dishes and desserts. In addition, they do profiles of ingredients (raspberries, green beans, onions) and little "how-to" (yogurt cheese) sections that make the reader feel even closer to farm life. The headnotes for each recipe are approachable and become quite formulaic: the Beekman boys spell out why they're drawn to the recipe and then give a tip on preparation or shopping. For example, with the Broccoli Cheddar Soup recipe, they discuss using the broccoli stalks and florets and why each is useful.
But we really can't discuss the recipes without exploring the question: what exactly is a "heritage recipe"? In their introduction, Brent and Josh note that "heirlooms [are] recipes that we will make every year, recipes that we pass along to friends and family on scraps of paper. They are now as much a part of the story and life of Beekman 1802 Farms as are the house, the barn and the land." Later they go on to note that "heirlooms" of any kind are often irreplaceable and are, therefore, cherished. So they seem to have a two-fold mission: first, to publish recipes that have become important to them in living and creating a meaningful life on the farm and second, to encourage others to make these recipes a part of their own family traditions. There is a little "Notes" box next to each recipe to encourage readers to jot down what they liked, didn't like, or would change. They also supply sturdy note cards to jot down adaptations you might make with a certain recipe. Then, after doing so, Brent and Josh encourage readers to go to Beekman1802 to chronicle the changes. This way, each recipe will grow, change, and live on. For generations? Who knows. Time will tell, I suppose.
Is the book romanticizing their "newly bucolic [country] lives?" Sure. Absolutely. Regardless, the emphasis on family and the importance of traditions is especially relevant this time of year, especially as we tip-toe into fall and start to peek towards Thanksgiving. And that is why I so wanted to try out their Sweet Potato Pie recipe that appears towards the back of the book.
The Beekman Boys have given Bay Area Bites permission to reprint the recipe and I can tell you that it's already been decided that Sweet Potato is taking down Pumpkin this Thanksgiving at our house. This recipe is special largely because of its simplicity, attention to detail (uses two distinct kinds of sweet potato) and the addition of brown butter at the end. It's, in all honesty, a pie I was talking about for a good three days afterwards. I think you will, too. While the recipe doesn't delineate the timing, I've done so here below. I've also split the paragraphs up into numbered steps. Last, when making your pie dough, if lard isn't your thing, Martha Stewart's pate brisee is a perfectly lovely and reliable pie dough so go that route instead.
Sweet Potato Pie
To get a sweet potato pie that isn't overly sweet, we use two kinds of sweet potatoes: Japanese sweet potatoes, which are a little drier in texture and mildly sweet, and deep-orange garnet potatoes, which are moist and quite sweet. If the pie develops a crack in the center as it cooks, which many do, simply top with sweetened whipped cream, sour cream, or yogurt.
Prep Time: 25 minutes (to make dough)
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Basic Pie Dough *
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, grated
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups pureed cooked sweet potatoes (from about 1 1/2 pounds)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a 12-inch round. Roll the dough around the rolling pin, and then fit it into a 9-inch deep-dish plate without stretching it.
2. Press the dough into the bottom and sides of the pan. With a pair of scissors or a paring knife, trim the edges of the dough to form a 1-inch overhand. Fold the overhand over to form a high edge, and with your fingers, crimp the dough all around. Refrigerate.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt until well combined. Whisk in the milk, sour cream, whole eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla. Whisk in the mashed sweet potatoes.
5. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Cook until the butter foams; them continue cooking until the foam subsides and the butter turns a rich brown.
6. Immediately pour the browned butter into the sweet potato mixture and whisk until incorporated.
7. Place the pie plate on a rimmed baking sheet and pour the mixture into it. Bake for 1 hour, or until the pie is set with a slightly wobbly center.
8. Cool on a rack. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
*Basic Pie Dough
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
4 tablespoons cold lard, cut into bits
3-4 tablespoons ice water
Instructions: (note that there are two methods described below)
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. With a pastry blender or two knives used scissors fashion, cut in the butter and the lard until pea-size lumps remain.
2. Gradually add the ice water until the dough begins to come together but doesn't clean the sides of the bowl. Add just enough of the ice water so the mixture holds together when pinched between two fingers.
1. Alternatively, in a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar, and salt.
2. Add the butter and lard and pulse 10 times or until large pea-size lumps are formed. With the motor running, gradually add the ice water until the dough begins to come together but doesn't clean the sides of the bowl.
3. Add just enough of the ice water so the mixture holds together when pinched between two fingers.
4. Shape into a disk, wrap in wax paper and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
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