When I was a kid growing up on a farm near Biscay, we didn’t talk about local food, we ate it.
Steaks came from grass-fed steers in the pasture. Eggs came from the free-range chickens in our dooryard. Milk came from our herd of registered Holstein cows. Fresh vegetables were picked from the garden.
My Grandma Johnson filled the basement shelves with her bounty. She canned meat, vegetables and fruit. Large crocks were filled with cabbage fermenting into sauerkraut, while root vegetables were nestled in sand for keeping. Nothing ever went to waste. Feathers were used in pillows. Flour sacks became kitchen towels and clothing.
When we gather as a family, we often remember these food experiences. Who can forget butchering chickens and literally seeing a chicken run around with its head cut off? How about canning pickles and hearing the comforting ping of a sealing jar? What about those chokecherries? Nothing will ever be as sour.
Somewhere along the line, there was a disconnect. Fast food and factory food replaced the homegrown variety. Root cellars became a thing of the past. Flowers replaced vegetables, scratch cooking became a lost art and the family farm vanished. With these changes came a dramatic increase in Type 2 diabetes and obesity rates skyrocketed. People were trading their health for convenience and the instant gratification of fat, salt and sugar.
Fortunately, the pendulum is swinging back and people once again want to know where their food comes from. There’s a bond that is formed in knowing the farmers who grow your food and how and where they do it. It’s these connections that add depth and richness to food on our table.
If you’re looking for a cookbook that is more than a farm-to-table guide, pick up a copy of “The Perennial Kitchen: Simple Recipes for a Healthy Future” by Beth Dooley and photographs by Mette Nielsen.
Dooley, a James Beard Award-winning author, expands the definition of “local food” to embrace regenerative agriculture, which is the method of growing small and large crops with ecological services. These farming methods, grounded in a land ethic, remediate the environmental damage caused by monocropping of corn and soybeans.
In this collection, the home cook will find both recipes and insights into artisan grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Learn how to stock your pantry with artisan grains, heritage dry beans, fresh flour, healthy oils and natural sweeteners — ingredients that are as good for the planet as they are on our plates.
If you’re more of a reader than a cook, that’s OK, because this is one of those cookbooks you can pick up and read without making a single recipe. However, if you pass on the recipes, you’ll miss out on some very fine eating, because Dooley tells us more than how to make a dish, she shares the ingredients’ healthy beginnings and how we can look forward to the healthy future they promise.
Interested in trying a recipe? The following is a deeply flavored side dish to serve with beef or lamb.
RYE BERRY AND ROAST SWEET POTATO PILAF
1 pound sweet potatoes, scrubbed (or peeled if desired) and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 bunch of scallions, trimmed and sliced into 1-inch lengths. Mostly white and light green parts
2 cups cooked rye berries
2 tablespoons malt or apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey or more to taste
1 tablespoon oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup parlsey
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss the sweet potatoes with the oil and a generous sprinkling of the coarse salt. Spread the sweet potatoes on the prepared baking sheet and roast, turning occasionally, until nicely crisped and caramelized, about 20-25 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, honey and oil.
Turn the sweet potatoes, scallions and rye berries into a medium bowl and toss in the vinegar-honey mixture; then season to taste with salt and pepper. This is delicious served warm or at room temperature. Toss in the parsley right before serving.