Books to Devour: Regional Reads of 2015
By Terese Allen | Photos By courtesy of the respective publishers 0
Food publishing certainly has come a long way. Consider the number of regionally focused cookbooks and culinary histories that were published in 2015—so many, in fact, that I can’t fit them all into this year’s round-up of food-focused titles. Here, instead, is a selected list for all the cooks, locavores and history buffs on your shopping list.
Edible Memory: The Lure of Heirloom Tomatoes and Other Forgotten Foods
by Jennifer A. Jordan (University of Chicago Press)
Passion combined with scholarship make this an unusual study of the ways nostalgia, food fashions and food politics intersect and shape each other. UW-Milwaukee sociology professor Jennifer Jordan delves into not only the darlings of the heirloom scene—tomatoes and apples—but also an array of foods that have less cache or have lost favor over time, such as turnips, kale, parsnips and even Jell-O. Both warmly written and much-documented, her book succeeds in illustrating how our “deep culinary connection to the past influences not only the foods we grow and consume but the ways we shape and imagine our farms, gardens and local landscapes.”
The Land of Milk and Uncle Honey: Memories from the Farm of My Youth
by Alan Guebert with Mary Grace Foxwell (University of Illinois Press)
Guebert is an award-winning agricultural journalist whose column “The Farm and Food File” runs weekly in more than 70 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada. This is an eloquent collection of stories about life on his family’s farm in southern Illinois during the 1960s and ’70s. His cast of characters includes his beloved wife, “the lovely Catherine,” a generous, hard-working bachelor known as Hoard the Dairyman, and his accident-prone great-uncle, Uncle Honey. Guebert puts me in mind of an older Michael Perry; he’s mildly self-deprecating, lovingly perceptive and very good at simultaneously poking fun at and celebrating his region’s rural culture.
Homemade for Sale: How to Set Up and Market a Food Business from Your Home Kitchen
by Lisa Kivirist and John D. Ivanko (New Society Publishers)
This is an indispensable resource from two of the region’s most thoughtful, well-practiced advisers on food and sustainability. Spurred by recently enacted “Pickle Bills” (laws that allow more food entrepreneurs to operate from home kitchens), the owner-operators of Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B have written an authoritative guide for food entrepreneurs looking for an income source, a fun project or a way to help grow the local food movement. Kivirist and Ivanko cover product development, marketing, and structuring and managing a small-scale business with intelligence and enthusiasm.
Madison Food: A History of Capital Cuisine
by Nichole Fromm and JonMichael Rasmus (Arcadia Publishing)
How did the relatively small city of Madison become a Midwest foodie destination? That’s the question the penners of this compact, eclectic history of area restaurants set out to answer. The title is misleading (a town’s restaurant scene is just one aspect of its cuisine) and, as the authors note, the book is “far from definitive,” but there is plenty to learn and enjoy here. Chronicling topics from groundbreaking chefs and iconic dishes, to labor disputes and infamous fires, the book relates a Madison tale that deserves to be told. I recommend reading it while nibbling on a morning bun or a slice of fudge bottom pie.
Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland
by Cynthia Clampitt (University of Illinois Press)
Food historian Cynthia Clampitt explores the astounding story of how corn developed from a humble grain into one of the greatest achievements in history. This is a likeable, deeply-researched book that deftly covers a great deal of territory for its size, including how a Mexican weed came to feed—literally and culturally—two continents; how it went from being disdained to dominant in the U.S.; how it built cities, industries and our very food supply; and the many ways it is intimately linked to Midwestern development and culture. The serious stuff is balanced, too, with sections on popcorn, corn festivals, corn cuisine and more.
The Norske Nook Book of Pies and Other Recipes
by Jerry Bechard and Cindee Borton-Parker (University of Wisconsin Press)
Osseo’s small-town café opened in 1973 and gained national pie celebrity when its original owner, Helen Myhre, appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman. Now it’s part of a multi-restaurant family that attracts tourists from around the world, and the current owners have responded to years of customer requests for more recipes with this cookbook (Myhre did a previous one). The up-close, full-page photos will surely get your pie juices flowing, and the volume is a welcome collection of Heartland pies, cheesecakes, tortes, muffins and cookies. But heads up: While most of the book is lucidly written, there is a bewildering instruction in many of the pie recipes to bake them at 375 degrees for about 2 hours, which will give you burnt pie.
Wisconsin Agriculture: A History
by Jerry Apps (Wisconsin Historical Society Press)
The beloved emeritus professor, author of dozens of books about barns, cheese, beer, gardening and farm life, Jerry Apps brings his signature focus to a handsome new book that examines the full spectrum of Wisconsin’s agricultural history. If you think farming here has been all about cows and corn, think again. Apps covers the obvious and the surprising: wheat, cranberries, beef cattle, fur farming, Christmas trees, maple syrup, hemp, ginseng, cherries, sugar beets, mint, sphagnum moss, flax, hops, aquaculture, beekeeping, urban farming…and, well, you get the picture. Now go get the book, and join Jerry in celebrating the cornucopia-like splendor of our state.
Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook: Iconic Fare and Nostalgia from Landmark Eateries
by Mary Bergin (Globe Pequot Press)
Long-time supper club aficionados (like me) are enjoying a resurgence of interest in this idiosyncratic and much-beloved Wisconsin tradition. They’re the subject recently of no fewer than three documentary films, two books, various radio programs and a signature event of the Wisconsin Book and Wisconsin Science Festivals. Now, respected journalist Mary Bergin adds her perspective to the evolving story of supper clubs with this combination cookbook travel guide. You’ll find recipes for pickled beets, frog legs Provençal and grasshopper pie alongside anecdotes from Kavanaugh’s Esquire Club, the Dorf Haus and 38 other rural and urban establishments around the state. I just might have to get another copy so I can keep one in the kitchen and one beneath the driver’s seat of my car.