Abra Berens’ cookbook trilogy has reached its finale: Ruffage (2019 – review here), Grist (2021 – review here) and, now Pulp (2023). To say that these are just cookbooks is oversimplifying the matter. Berens is a deeply passionate person as evidenced by her books. She cares about food – how it is produced, prepared, and enjoyed. She’s curious about the food systems in the United States and the politics and social implications behind it. Berens is a farmer, chef, author, among other things, and the spirit in which she approaches ingredients is fascinating. With Ruffage, the focus was on vegetables and with Grist home cooks were guided through grains and legumes. In her latest book, Pulp, she focuses on cooking with fruit. As with her other books, she goes beyond just offering recipes – there are interviews throughout the book where people connected with growing and producing contextualize the agricultural system of the Midwest and how this system is connected to what’s happening on a national level. With Pulp, as well as her other books, Berens is trying to promote conversations about the food movement, sustainable farming, diversity, and how each of us plays a part in the things that end up in our kitchens and on our tables.
There is a lot of information in this book – but it is all practical. From how to select fruit, signs of ripeness, how to store, along with some notes to consider. Not only did I learn about fruit, but I also found the recipes taught me some life-skills I was sorely lacking – like how to make pudding. The book is divided into 2 main parts – in the first part, the Baker’s Toolkit, home cooks are provided with the basic recipes that will be applied to many of the recipes. For home cooks who prefer having the recipes all on one page, there is some flipping back-and-forth between the main sweet recipes in section two and the basic recipes from this section. I appreciated this section since it is where I found the pudding recipe. In the second section, Fruits and How I Prepare Them, Berens gives recipes (sweet and savory) for using and enjoying: apples, apricots, blueberries, cherries, drupelet berries (raspberries, blackberries, mulberries), grapes, ground cherries (a.k.a. cape gooseberries), melons, nectarines + peaches, pears, plums, quince, rhubarb, strawberries, and tart round fruits (cranberries, currants, gooseberries, lingonberries + autumn olive). With each of these chapters she focuses on only a handful of preparation techniques – raw, poaching, stewing, baking, roasting, grilling, or preserving – that home cooks will use.
Living in Nova Scotia, Canada, many of the fruits grown in the Midwest United States are available in grocery stores as well as local farmer’s markets here. For whatever reason, I seemed to gravitate towards the sweeter recipes but do note that there are an equal number of savory ones found in Pulp. One of the first recipes that I tried from the book was the Apple Butterscotch Pudding w/ Candied Nuts. While I adore puddings and could eat them by the vat, I have never made them, so for this recipe I followed her instructions for making a gorgeously lush butterscotch pudding. I think this first attempt was decent – she does warn home cooks not to be a “pale pudding wimp” so I let the caramel base cook for as long as my intestinal fortitude would allow. The diced apple is pan-fried in butter until browned and, for the final element of the dish, nuts are candied (another life-skill recipe with vast applications). The combinations of flavours, temperatures, and textures made up one really delicious dish!
The next recipe I tried was the Sliced Pears w/ Salted Caramel + Crumbles – again, home cooks are given “life skill recipes” (I think everyone should be able to make a caramel sauce from scratch!) and the final dish, while simple to prepare, looks pretty spectacular on the plate. The Crumble Topping found in the Baker’s Toolkit is just as Berens says – endlessly adaptable. The base recipe is just a handful of ingredients – flour, rolled oats, brown sugar, salt, butter – from there, home cooks can add little extras, such as nuts. And, when added to some juicy slices of pear and a generous drizzling of salted caramel sauce, it feels like such a luxe dessert.
While I know how to make muffins, my 9-year-old daughter has yet to master this skill and, with Berens’ recipe for Muffin Batter, making muffins is really easy. All that is needed is a bowl, whisk, and mixing spoon – we used this recipe to bake a batch of Blueberry Spelt Muffins. The technique is a bit different here with the add-ins – instead of folding them directly into the batter, the blueberries are added to the tops of each muffin before going into the oven. Berens tells us in the notes that this is to help “minimize batter bruising.”
I think my daughter’s favourite recipe from the book is the one for Strawberry Sundaes: Vanilla Ice Cream, Pulsed Strawberries + Meringue. The recipes for the ice cream and meringue can be found in the Baker’s Toolkit, and again home cooks are treated to recipes that have applications beyond this dish. As I’ve noticed with the other recipes we’ve tried, this sundae is delicious because of the mingling of flavour, texture, and temperature. While the sundae is fantastic when strawberries are used for the purée, I can think of other summer fruits I’ll look forward to using when the season is right.
Pulp is a lovely finale to Berens’ series of books – as with the other books, Pulp’s design is in keeping with Ruffage and Grist. I find it satisfying to see the three books sitting side-by-side on the shelf. As with the first two books, Pulp is also photographed by EE Berger and illustrated by Lucy Engelman. With over 215 recipes, my review only offers a small glimpse into what Berens’ book gives home cooks.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Raincoast Books and Chronicle Books for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.