Jessi Baker’s Shining isn’t just an amalgamation of spot-on recipes, but also a delicious lesson in Appalachian history and what can happen when one follows their heart’s calling.
Inspired by the history of making moonshine, Shining links the roots of early Scottish and Irish settlers in the mountains of Appalachia, distilling spirits based on generations of whiskey-making tradition from their home countries, to Baker’s Ole Smoky Moonshine distillery in Tennessee, the leading distiller of moonshine in the country. Thanks to Ole Smoky, what was once an illicit practice has now turned into a celebrated, worldwide phenomenon.
Somehow it seems wrong to dive any deeper into this alcohol-inspired cookbook without a cocktail in hand, so let me present you with the one that had me running to my local spirit store right away: Baker’s Blackberry Lemonade.
From the cocktails chapter, this drink uses Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine and is a pure celebration of summer, with plenty of lemon and mint thrown in for good measure. It’s the kind of cocktail I imagine to be perfect for impromptu patio gatherings with neighbors and friends, or in my case, as I type this review. (Should your friends end up lingering for a second drink, the Twisted Old Fashioned using Ole Smoky Mango Habanero Whiskey is a no-brainer.)
Raised in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Baker remembers helping her grandparents make and wrap candy at their well-known and well-loved business, Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen. College eventually took her to DC, where she studied at Georgetown University, then back to Tennessee for law school. This is also where she married her high school sweetheart, Joe Baker, a fellow lawyer and her eventual partner in crime at Ole Smoky Moonshine.
When the Tennessee legislature legalized distilling spirits in 2009, Joe decided it was time for a career change and became a moonshiner. (Side note: this perhaps is my favorite part of the author’s story – it’s all about following that tiny voice in your heart, even when reality and circumstances seem to say something different).
With three kids and a busy law practice, the idea seemed risky and crazy to Jessi, but it was hard to resist the possibilities. As self-described yuppies, Jessi was really counting on Joe’s 200-year-old roots in Eastern Tennessee moonshining to carry them through, which they certainly did. Readers get a peek into the early years of experimenting and building their successful brand.
The creation of Shining was, in many ways, a collaboration between business and home life for the author. A dedicated home cook, Jessi wanted to “write something fresh, simple, and pure, just like the mountains we call home”. Though not classically trained as a chef, I think she pulls this off by offering well-thought-out recipes made extra special using Ole Smoky Moonshine. Not all the recipes use moonshine as an ingredient, but at least half do, so be mindful of skimming through the whole book before heading out to your local spirit store to buy all the flavors of Ole Smoky you need.
Chapters include the aforementioned cocktails, moving on to dips, southern bread, salads, soups and stews, mains, sides, brunch, and desserts. You definitely won’t need to wait until 5 o’clock to consume your alcohol. And speaking of alcohol, the use of it isn’t meant to overpower the palate, but rather enhance a familiar flavor, like in the Kickin’ Buffalo Chicken Dip, which gets a little kick from Ole Smoky White Lightnin’ Moonshine. Or, the Whiskey Brisket, made using Ole Smoky Tennessee Straight Bourbon Whiskey. (This blend also shows up in the Spiked Banana Pudding.
You’ll want to put that dish at the top of your list.) The recipes chosen by Baker are definitely southern favorites, making this cookbook a great resource on how to tweak your family favorites too.
Shining is a wonderful cookbook that would make any home chef happy. It’s a coming together of flavors and history that warms the soul and inspires one to always pay attention to that quiet voice in your heart.
Jessi Baker lives in Tennessee. She and her husband Joe own Ole Smoky Moonshine. Their line of moonshine and whiskeys are now sold in all 50 states and 53 countries around the world.
Shining was published on June 11, 2019 by Andrews McMeel Publishing.
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