The Homemade Pantry

I read a lot of cookbooks, although I don’t use a lot of them; I’m too busy tinkering with my own recipes! The books I enjoy the most are the ones that give the reader a sense of the author’s personality as well as his or her philosophy of food.

The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making fits these criteria beautifully. The publisher, Clarkson Potter, recently sent me a review copy.

The book’s author, Alana Chernila of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, is hugely likable. (One also meets the 30-something cook’s attractive husband and two daughters in the course of reading the book.) And her passion for making as much food as possible in the home is infectious.

At the book’s beginning, Chernila lists her reasons for making food from scratch:

1. Food made at home is better for you.
2. Food made at home tastes better.
3. Food made at home usually costs less.
4. Food made at home eliminates unnecessary packaging.
5. Food made at home will change the way you think about food.

It’s hard to argue with her logic. Most of us are increasingly wary of additives in food. The simplest and most tasty way to avoid these is to control what goes into what we eat. We’re all looking for yummy, affordable food that won’t make too big a carbon footprint. And we all enjoy turning food into a joy as well as a necessity.

To me Chernila’s recipes fall into three categories. The first will be the least useful to people like me, who are country dwellers and routinely prepare many of these foods at home already.

My neighbors generally make their own applesauce, their own basic birthday cakes, and their own cornbread. If they have time and the season is good, they freeze fruits and vegetables for winter use as well. Chernila’s recipes for foods like these will interest readers like me—we’re all looking for new ways to do what we already do—but they won’t be essential.

The second category is more exotic. Chernila makes a number of foods that I have a feeling I may make only once but will enjoy making: butter, graham crackers (actually, I HAVE made these in the past, but her recipe looks better than mine!), mozzarella cheese, crème fraîche.

The third category encompasses practical foods that I can see incorporating into my regular menus: crackers, yogurt, and best of all condiments like mustard and hot sauce.

In fact, I have already made some mustard and have a photo to prove it!

Part of the charm of The Homemade Pantry is the informality and non-preachiness of its prose. A busy wife, mother, food writer, and selectman, Alana Chernila admits that her kitchen can look like a disaster … and that some days she doesn’t have time to make everything her family eats from scratch.

She does try, however. And so should the rest of us.

Homemade Pantry Mustard

We recently heard the parable of the mustard seed in church. Thanks to the parable, over the years mustard seeds have become a symbol of great things coming from small starts. It’s nice to remember that the seeds can literally create something a lot bigger than you would expect from looking at them as well!

Here is Alana Chernila’s mustard recipe, which I made last week. It makes a spicy mustard, but that suits me just fine.


1/2 cup brown or yellow mustard seeds (I used yellow this time but have some brown seeds I’m going to try soon.)
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons honey


Pour the mustard seeds into a medium mixing bowl and cover with water 3 inches higher than the seeds. Cover the bowl, and let it sit at room temperature for 12 hours.

Drain the water from the seeds, reserving at least 1/4 cup of the water. Combine the soaked mustard seeds, the vinegar, garlic, salt, honey, and 1/4 cup of the soaking water in a blender, and blend until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a jar, cover, and refrigerate. If you can, wait for a week before using the mustard so that the flavors can blend; on Day One it tastes very mustardy!

According to Chernila this mustard lasts for 2 months in the fridge. Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

Draining the seeds….

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4 Responses to “The Homemade Pantry”

  1. Grad says:

    Before I read this post, Tinky, I sent you an e-mail reply in which I said I read cookbooks all the time, but almost never follow recipes in them! I knew we were kindred spirits!! I became a very staunch “scratch” cook, using organics when possible, when my children were small and I put my career on hold to be home. I worried about additives and pesticides and I was in my element in the kitchen, where the kids always felt welcome and at home…and wanted to “help.” But I must admit, I never made my own mustard!! Mayo? Yes. Yogurt? I still make that. But mustard? I’d try it, but where to I find that many mustard seeds? And wouldn’t they cost a fortune? Still, it might be fun to try.

  2. tinkyweisblat says:

    Grad, the seeds weren’t super expensive. I got them in bulk from a health-food store. I also highly recommend my other mustard recipe,, which uses dried mustard. Have fun!

  3. ceejay says:

    Mustard seeds are really cheap. They can be found in bulk food stores, or health food stores. I have been making mustard now for about 50 yrs using a recipe of my great great grandmother. The ingredients are similar, but no precise amounts. Example……2 large hands full of mustard seeds, lots of garlic, honey from the bee tree, fermented grape juice. Soak seeds for a day and save water.Put all in large pestle and mash. Needless to say, the first few tries were not that good, but now I have it figured out, the grand and great grand children all love my mustard and refuse to eat store bought. My eldest son carries a small amount with him at all times to use when he eats away from home. One deli owner tasted it and wanted the recipe, but was told no, that it was an old family secret. I would have given him the recipe, but all four children say no, it’s our family mustard. I think if you have something tasty that people like it should be shared. The hardest part of making this is waiting for it to season, and then be sure to make more about 3-4 weeks before the last batch runs out.

  4. tinkyweisblat says:

    Oh, Ceejay, if you can ever convince your children to share the recipe, please let me know. I agree with you that sharing is best–and it honors your great great grandmother. Meanwhile, enjoy making it and thinking of her!

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