Book Review: Rona Roberts’ ‘Classic Kentucky Meals’ Provides an Immersive Experience
Classic Kentucky Meals: Stories, Ingredients, & Recipes From the Traditional Bluegrass Kitchen
by Rona Roberts
Charleston: American Palate/The History Press, 2014
The past few years has seen not only a renaissance in Kentucky food, but also in Kentucky food writing. Wayne County native and Lexington resident Rona Roberts has done much to lead the charge through her Savoring Kentucky website, Local Food Percolator lunches, and Cornbread Suppers. Previously the author of Sweet, Sweet Sorghum, Roberts and Charleston’s History Press have released an exciting new book, Classic Kentucky Meals.
Classic Kentucky Meals is a book hard to classify because it’s not really a cookbook in the traditional sense, nor is it a history. Instead, Roberts has built a narrative around five meals (and a bonus). Each meal in turn has two variations, an Everyday Menu and a Dressed Up Menu, the latter for when you’re having guests, celebrating, or just going whole-hog.
From Braised Pork, Lamb, or Beef Shoulder (Meal One) to Smoky Pinto Beans (Meal Five), Roberts doesn’t simply throw random recipes at the reader, but rather provides a context and sets a mood for each. Each meal has an inset box of Perfect Pairings for beverages that blend well with the meal, whether coffee, cocktails, or tea, as well as suggested musical playlists for both cooking and eating (this has Spotify playlist written all over it, and—good grief!—where has Foreverly by Billie Joe + Norah been all my life?).
Roberts provides recipes for classics such as her updated version of Angel Biscuits and a throwback 1950s Boone Tavern Spoon Bread recipe. She also draws from the avant-garde of Kentucky’s chefs with Louisville’s Edward Lee’s Sorghum-Lime Drizzle and Midway’s Ouita Michel’s Sorghum-Bourbon Vinaigrette.
But, again, this isn’t just a cookbook. Roberts intersperses her menus and recipes with spotlights on Kentucky sources such as Hood’s Heritage Hogs in Mt. Olivet, Henkel’s Herbs & Heirlooms in Nicholasville, and Sunflower Sundries in Mays Lick. This transforms the book into the sort of volume one picks up to read for pleasure, but also one to tuck away as a sourcebook for future reference.
Enlivening all of this text are the lovely photographs of Sarah Jane Sanders interspersed throughout. Sanders transforms the common “test kitchen” photographs one finds in so many cookbooks into expertly lighted coffee table worthy delights. Kudos to History Press for presenting the book in a larger format, which makes the visual experience possible.
Rona Roberts and photographer Sarah Jane Sanders have given us a wonderful celebration of Kentucky food. But while there is plenty to read and look at, Classic Kentucky Meals is also an open invitation for us to dust off our own cast iron skillets and join in the feast.
Addendum: Some recipes that were cut from the book due to space limitations are now on Rona Roberts’ website Savoring Kentucky free for all: Classic Kentucky Meals additional recipes