I have a new cookbook that I love. It was a gift from sister in law and brother, Natalie and Robert, and it's just great: Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland, by Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson. It doesn't have sumptuous full-colors images of the dishes, like so many trendy cookbooks, but unlike many of those mouth-watering , celebrity-studded tomes, this one has great recipes!
It's highly readable and contains a lot of fascinating history of our area. Many regional cookbooks don't go very deep, and aren't very interesting, or truly regional. Sure, we grow blueberries up here, but blueberry turnovers just don't ring Minnesota for me; you can get them anywhere. Dooley and Watson use not just the droll berries, but feature a range of wild game and wild ingredients I love Minnesota for, without just substituting for their all-American counterparts.
What's more, let's talk old-fashioned small-town holidays! Spaetzle? Pastie Pies? Now we're talking Midwestern church picnic goodness! Mostly, I must say, it focuses on northern European immigrants to the Midwest, but it also includes tidbits of Hmong and other more recent groups, as well as acknowledging some native culinary traditions and influences. The groups they focus on, they do a pretty good job with.
I've used several recipes. One for a Norwegian toast flavored with my new favorite spices, cardamom and mace turned out highly satisfactory. I merely substituted cream for most of the called for butter. There is a kickin' brownie recipe. I've made a lot of unsatisfactory brownies lately, but these were so good, they didn't even make it to our neighbors' houses. And the pastie pies!
I have always loved firm little pastry crust hand pies stuffed with savory meat fillings. Paul thought I was crazy and maintained they didn't exist till now. Ha! (I also found a whole article on their history in the Iron Range in a recent issue of Edible Twin Cities.) The idea is to make a sturdy complete meal; so the crust is meant to be strong, while the interior juicy. I altered the filling recipe, using what I had and made a filling with potatoes, sausage, and fresh pears, seasoned with fennel, coriander, and caraway. That might all sound far-flung, but they turned out great. Gibbie spontaneously raved about them, "these are really good, Mama. Thank you. These are so good." And they handled magnificently as lunches the next day.
Many of the recipes are truly authentic old-fashioned recipes. Where realistically, almost no one would make the old-fashioned item authentically, there are variations. I like doing laboriously authentic things, but realize not many people do. For instance, there aren't recipes for Lutefisk or home made lefse. They've also made a few changes for health, lightening up a dish. Usually I don't like that so much, but the authors here alter with aplomb. They do well at maintaining what is memorable about the dish. There are also plenty of stellar original recipes by small-town cooks and big-city chefs. They've really pulled together the best of the best.