Books That Really Cook

By Terese Allen | November 13, 2017
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When I was a kid, we never put up the holiday tree until the morning of December 24. I’m sure that seems absurdly late to people who string their porches with Christmas lights at the same time they’re removing the Halloween ones. But I bet even those eager beavers have a few last-minute gifts to scramble for. Cookbooks to the rescue! I can recommend the following, all published in 2017 and all focused on North Country fare. Put ’em on your gift-buying list, or better yet, at the top of your own wish list.

by Beth Dooley and Mette Nielsen
(University of Minnesota Press)

During shivery winter days in Wisconsin, northerners are naturally drawn to a warm oven or a glowing fireplace. But I find a different kind of cold-season lure in the 13-square-foot stand-up freezer that sits near the bottom of my basement steps. That’s because it holds roasted red peppers, elderflower syrup, tomato sauce and other goodies I froze the previous summer when the local produce-getting was good. This year I’m also drawn to a new book from culinary writer Beth Dooley and her Danish-born co-author Mette Nielsen, a gardener and food preserver. Their handsome guide to making preserves blends Great Lake-area ingredients, Scandinavian food traditions and a low-tech preserving technique—freezing— to supply my sub-zero pantry with local flavor all year long.

Savory Sweet focuses on bright, bold flavors and low-sugar preparations—think chipotle tomatillo salsa, fresh mint syrup and pickled cranberries. Think black currant jam with candied ginger and lemon thyme, and pickled asparagus with juniper and fennel. The book promises all this and more with no cumbersome canning pots, no steaming hot-water baths and no fears about unsealed jars. I especially like the “Quick Ideas” that follow most recipes and feature creative ways to serve the condiments, plus time and space-saving tips and other helpful inspirations. To save on freezer space, for example, the authors recommend spreading fresh-made pesto out on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, freezing it, cutting the frozen pesto into squares and then returning them to the freezer in resealable bags. Smart stuff.

by Christina Ward (Process)

Here’s another guide to preserving food, one that goes where Savory Sweet doesn’t— into a comprehensive exploration of the whys and hows of canning, fermenting and drying foods. A Milwaukee County-based certified Master Food Preserver who has taught thousands of home cooks and artisanal entrepreneurs, Christina Ward has an easy-going, friendly way of explaining the science of preservation. Whether you’re a novice who has always felt intimidated by canning and fermenting or a long-time preserver looking to deepen your understanding, you’ll find her Julia Child-like approach accessible, thorough and reassuring. With its deeply researched advice, some historical background about food preservation and recipes—from garlic jelly and mak kimchi to spicy Guinness Stout mustard and green tomato pie filling— Preservation is a treasure.

by Shelly Westerhausen (Chronicle Books)

So far I’ve made the ginger-whiskey cider, the honey-glazed peach panzanella and the fall slaw with maple mustard dressing from this book. I think I’m in love. In fact, I pretty much want to try every recipe from Shelly Westerhausen’s Vegetarian Heartland. Vivid, full-page color photos of Midwestern landscapes and eat-the-page preparations were what first attracted me to it. Then I noted its unusual organization: Within the larger sections of spring, summer, fall and winter, Westerhausen cleverly includes chapters that focus on seasonal activities. (Winter recipes, for example, complement adventures like “Snowed In,” “Holiday Hosting” and “Playing in the Snow.”) And once I tried my first recipe, I was hooked.

As one who really enjoys meat but is also trying to eat less of it these days, I’m grateful for this beautiful new aide in creating delectable, regionally focused vegetarian fare.

by Jerry Apps and Susan Apps-Bodilly
(Wisconsin Historical Society Press)

Honey-glazed ham, pickled northern pike and strawberry sandwiches—if you think farm foods of the past made for uninteresting fare, think again. Just check out this memoir-cookbook by rural historian Jerry Apps (of Wisconsin Public Television fame) and his daughter Susan Apps-Bodilly. It’s a warm-hearted yet realistic study of food and farm life in days gone by, a time when the noon meal was called “dinner” and families left the back door unlocked for the ice man.

Jerry’s story-telling guides us through farmhouse, fields, garden, barn, woods and community to reveal how food-related concerns and satisfactions infused nearly every aspect of country life. Susan’s family recipes—canned chicken, fresh peas in milk sauce, wild blueberry cobbler—channel beloved flavors and by-gone techniques. From ring bologna and whiskey slings, to feed-sack aprons and the green-stained fingers of cucumber pickers, Old Farm Country Cookbook is a literary way-back machine that vividly, lovingly and deliciously details the food culture of a younger time.


By Jerry Apps & Susan Apps-Bodilly

One cold winter afternoon when I was about three years old, my uncle George was looking after me while the folks had gone to town. I had just gotten Tinker Toys for Christmas, and Uncle George and I spent that afternoon at the dining room table making the most wonderful creations. Tinker Toys consisted of wooden spools with holes drilled in them, plus wooden sticks that could be placed in the holes. We made a barn and a shed and a windmill that actually worked. We laughed when our creations didn’t work—which was often. During a break from our building projects, we ate my mother’s molasses cookies, with coffee for Uncle George and milk for me. Uncle George was a quiet man, a bachelor who lived with my grandfather in Wild Rose. On this winter afternoon, I had him all to myself, and we got to know each other around that old wooden table.

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