Quick Bites – Cathy BarrowMay 5, 2020 by Jenny
Cathy Barrow is an award-winning author, knitter, traveler, cook, teacher, and gardener. Published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Serious Eats, Food52, The Local Palate, Garden & Gun, Southern Living, NPR, and National Geographic, Cathy believes in the power of home cooking and the stories that connect us to food, culture, home, friends, and family.
Her first cookbook, Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, won the prestigious IACP Single Subject Cookbook award, her second cookbook, Pie Squared, was nominated for a James Beard Award for Baking and Pastry. Her third cookbook, When Pies Fly, arrived last year. She is currently working on another cookbook, not about pies (see below).
Q: What first triggered your interest in cooking? Your first cooking memory?
I can’t recall a time I didn’t cook. My great grandmother was a central character in the story of my kitchen life from a very young age. The summer I was 5, my mother was studying for her PhD and needed the summer to write her dissertation. I was dropped off at my Nana’s every morning. My great uncle Arthur had a small farm and he would leave a bushel basket of something he grew on Nana’s steps. I was in the kitchen, prepping that food, canning, preserving, stirring every darn day. If we weren’t in the kitchen, we were in the garden weeding and digging and harvesting, and if we weren’t there, we were at the sewing machine making aprons for the gift shop at the Temple. My Nana knew how to use a child’s energy and I was a sponge, learning everything I could. After that summer’s education, I was always at the ready, helping my mother in the kitchen. I baked with babysitters and chopped onions for my grandmother’s Sabbath dinners. Any time in the kitchen was my happy time.
Q: If you had to describe your cooking style, what would it be?
I’m organized, a planner, and I love project cooking. Recipes that take three days? I’m in. Fermenting that takes a month? Sign me up. Fussy baking projects, for sure. I love planning elaborate dinner parties with multiple courses. But when it comes to our dinner, just the two of us? I can make something out of anything. Pantry cooking is my superpower. I will admit that I’m not very fussy about presentation.
Q: Are you a cookbook collector? If so, tell us about your collection?
I have collected cookbooks for over 40 years and had hundreds until we downsized 4 years ago. Now, it’s whittled down to about 300 of my favorites over the years. I do keep adding them, but more often that’s electronically. I have all the classics — Julia and Maida Heatter and Joy of Cooking and Edna Lewis were my north stars as I learned. I cooked from Gourmet and the New York Times magazine. I cooked my way through more than a dozen books, long before I started blogging, and that was my formal education. Now, with help (enabling) from Omnivore Books in San Francisco, I have a lovely collection of preserving books from the US and Europe, many in French. And I have a broad collection of pie books!
And finally, I have 3 large binders of my own recipes that I’ve been writing since college. I rarely look at them lately except when I’m really stuck and need inspiration. It’s amazing what I was creating when I was 18 years old. Candies and cookies. Marinades. Complex pastries learned at my great grandmother’s elbow.
Q: What is the best part of your job? Do you sometimes feel like working with food all day keeps you from wanting to get creative in the kitchen?
Type A me loves a project. I like the organizing, the completing of tasks, the regimented life. I get up every day and go to my office or the kitchen in work mode. I’ll spend 7 to 8 hours there, focused. So that’s the managerial side, but there’s also the wildly creative side. The moment when I think How can I make bo saam into a pie? Or what about focaccia with apricot jam, fennel, and caramelized onion? I’m not going to pretend that every creative moment results in something delicious, but I still love going down the path.
Q: What is your go-to for a quick dinner?
I roast an entire head of cauliflower and while it’s cooking, I make some sort of sauce. Generally leans toward Indian spicing, but sometimes it’s a rich cheesy sauce. I’ve been into cauliflower rarebit lately. Can you say comfort food?
Q: What projects are you working on?
I have a book proposal that’s out there right now. I hope to have news on that soon. And I have my monthly Washington Post column. For the last four years, I’ve written the Bring It column for them, focused on potluck cooking. Now, I’m turning back into the kitchen for columns on project cooking. My first was how to make your own sourdough starter and crackers made from the cast off. I’ve spent a few months playing with sourdough cast off. Update: Bagels, Schmears and a Nice Piece of Fish is coming February 2022 from Chronicle Books!
Q: Tell us what you love about Eat Your Books.
What don’t I love about EYB? I have a charter membership (met Jane at a conference in 2009, just as I started blogging and she was starting EYB!) Whenever I’m stuck for dinner, it’s the first place I go. And when I’m writing, I can see who else is writing on a topic, has combined certain ingredients, made certain dishes. It’s very helpful when I need a survey of all Tomato Pie recipes, for instance. As a writer, I couldn’t do without it. As a cook, I wouldn’t do without it!
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