A longtime Wisconsin writer who grew up on a farm during the Depression. A Minnesota native who fell in love with the Bayfield area, moved her family there and helped open a restaurant. A native of India’s Malabar Coast who immigrated to Wisconsin as a bride of 20.
All three have one thing in common: a newly published cookbook, in each case their first.
The authors, the books and the recipes they share could not be more different. But all should hold appeal for Wisconsin readers who love to cook — or enjoy a good story.
Here’s a look at each one.
Born of necessity
Old Farm Country Cookbook by Jerry Apps and Susan Apps-Bodilly. Wisconsin Historical Society Press, $26.95.
Much of Jerry Apps’ childhood on a small Wisconsin dairy farm corresponded with the Great Depression and World War II. His mother cooked for the family of five on a wood-burning stove without electricity or running water.
Yet he has fond memories of his mother’s cooking, and he writes, “I don’t remember ever going to bed hungry.”
All of this all was intriguing to his editor at the Wisconsin Historical Society Press, Kate Thompson, who suggested he write a cookbook.
No cook himself, the author of some 50 books — including histories of Wisconsin cheese and breweries — balked at first. But then a solution was found: His daughter, Susie, agreed to test and tweak the recipes with help from Apps' wife, Ruth, a home economist by profession. He would contribute the stories.
And that’s just what this book is — a collection of stories interspersed with nearly 200 recipes from Apps’ mother Eleanor’s recipe box, fleshed out for today’s cooks. (Many of the recipes simply said “cook in a hot oven” or listed ingredients without directions.)
Fellow Depression children and boomers alike will recognize many of the simple recipes, from oatmeal cookies to roast chicken, Jell-O salads, casseroles, deviled eggs and dishes involving gravy.
Younger adults will appreciate the literal farm-to-table way of eating, which was simply “a natural part of life in those days,” Apps said. “The vast majority of our food, we knew exactly where it came from.”
The book is organized into three sections: Kitchen Memories, Everyday Foods and Gatherings and Holidays. From Apps’ stories you’ll learn about harvesting ice in the days before refrigeration, school lunches packed in pails, threshing day, pickling cucumbers and the time his father announced he was planting three acres in rutabagas.
When demand for the gnarly root vegetable proved to be nearly non-existent, and stinky rotting specimens had to be hauled out of their home’s cellar, his father decided not to repeat the experiment.
A less-offensive smell came from the 5-gallon crock of sauerkraut that Apps remembers brewing in the pantry all through fall and winter. “We grew up eating a lot of sauerkraut,” he said. “We ate sauerkraut fixed every which way.”
Also plenty of wild game that they hunted themselves.
“During those Depression years we depended on venison and rabbits and squirrels and partridges and pheasant and fish for a lot of our food,” he said.
When Susie agreed to test her grandmother’s recipes, she made one exception very clear. According to Apps, “Susie said, ‘I refuse to fry a squirrel.’ “
But overall, the Madison teacher found working on the book with her dad to be a rewarding experience.
“Working on this project helped me realize that recipes and food traditions are a way to honor my relatives and the community that my Dad grew up in …,” she said. “We don't often think of something like an old recipe box as being historical, but it is…
“It was fun to think about my grandma cooking in her kitchen in her farmhouse, bringing in fresh vegetables from the garden and using what they had from their own farm to cook with.”
Apps said he hopes people take away a serious message from his book, along with some tasty recipes.
“The connection of neighborhood and community and family to food is something I would hope people might reflect on,” he said.
“Old Farm Country Cookbook” is widely available in bookstores and on websites.
RECIPE: Bread Pudding with Good Stuff
RECIPE: Buckwheat Pancakes
A taste of town life
Life in a Northern Town by Mary Dougherty. Wisconsin Historical Society Press, $29.95.
Warning: With some of the first words Dougherty writes in her introduction, you may find yourself hooked.
“Like the best of epic tales, this one began with a journey on a boat, in our case with a bunch of kids and a 150-pound Newfoundland dog named Guinness.”
That was in June of 2000, when Dougherty and husband Ted and family took their sailboat from Duluth to Bayfield. One look at the shore of Lake Superior, and she was in love.
Starting that next year, she and the kids spent every summer in Bayfield, while Ted stayed in St. Paul, Minn., during the week to work. In 2007 they bought a house and the whole family moved there full time.
Having already started a cheese business with a local friend, in 2008 Dougherty opened a restaurant with her, Good Thyme (since closed).
That was a learning experience for the then-mom of five with no culinary training or restaurant experience, one that lasted four years until she decided it was all just too much. Meanwhile, she became fully entrenched with life in her town of 487 people.
In a phone interview, Dougherty described her book as “kind of a memoir told through essays about what it’s like to live on the shores of Lake Superior … and what life is like cooking and eating and knitting yourself into a small community in northern Wisconsin.”
The book is organized by the seasons — spring through winter — with appealing recipes, from simple to globally sophisticated, interspersed with short treatises on the sites, the people, the foods and customs of her adopted home.
And oh, the photography: luscious-looking foods, postcard-worthy scenery, animals (dogs, goats, cows) and locals.
The blogger (thecookerymaven.com) also brings an engaging writing style, whether she’s describing collecting sap for maple syrup, watching goats give birth or pressing apples into cider.
A few years ago, a proposal (still pending) to put a 25,000-hog farrowing operation in Bayfield County led Dougherty to join the fight against corporate farms. She’s now employed as an area consultant/organizer with the nonprofit Socially Responsible Agriculture Project.
She had to work at keeping her strong opinions in check while writing her book. “My editor many times had to tell me, ‘You’re not writing a manifesto,’” Dougherty said. (It does not read like one.)
With the pig farm, she’s especially concerned about the prospect of millions of gallons of manure so close to Lake Superior.
“It all boils down to this: all food comes from someplace — from some place,” she writes, “and the food grown or raised in Bayfield is possible because of our healthy soil and clean water.”
That quiet “place” she loves so much is getting to be more well-known, she said. The last few years have been busier than she remembers.
“There’s something about it up here, a certain level of authenticity,” she said. “It’s beautiful, but also we have a really rich and vibrant community, a lot of artists, a lot of local food.”
Food, she writes, is her “connection to the world.”
“It’s how I make friends, how I nourish my family, and how I define myself. … Gathering people around my table is a constant theme for me, as are the places, friends, dogs, food and family who contribute to the cauldron of my food inspiration. I follow the breadcrumb trail of that inspiration to my local farm stands, beaches or waterfalls — or into the unknown.”
“Life in a Northern Town” is widely available in bookstores and online.
RECIPE: Baked Sweet Potatoes with Cilantro Lime Butter
RECIPE: Summer Quiche with Tomatoes and Sweet Corn
Secrets of eating well
Sutras of Indian Cooking by Geramin La Brie. Outskirts Press, $35.99 hardcover, $25.99 softcover.
“Sutra” in India means a secret or a benefit passed on from one generation to another. And so it is with this self-published cookbook by La Brie, who lives in Richfield.
It could just as well be called Secrets of Healthful Indian Cooking.
La Brie grew up on the Malabar Coast of India, on the original spice trade route. “It’s very tropical,” she said of her home region. “Cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, they just grow wild. The soil is very rich.” Add to that a blend of foreign influences, including Portuguese, Dutch, British, Chinese, and you get food that is “a little different from the rest of India.”
But when she moved here 25 years ago as a bride (to her first husband) of 20, she had zero knowledge of how to cook that food. She had scribbled down some recipes before she left but spent a lot of time on the phone with her mother.
She persevered, and learned, and came to love to entertain. In 2013 she was featured as a Journal Sentinel Great Host.
This book came about as a result of her business, Citerra Finance, through which she helps American patients of limited means secure funding for weight-loss surgery at American-certified hospitals just over the border in Mexico.
Some of the patients she worked with wanted recipes. She thought about her grandparents and great-grandparents back home, who lived to be 90 and 100 years old. They never took vitamins.
“I realized that a lot of their health was from the food they ate,” she said.
The recipes she shares in her book are heavy on spices and vegetables, with a mix of meat and vegetarian dishes.
Each one is accompanied by a “health sutra,” outlining the nutritional benefits of key ingredients, and a “knowledge sutra,” with more information about some ingredient in the recipe.
La Brie readily admits she’s not a doctor or dietitian, and the nutritional benefits she states are based on Internet research and what her mother and grandmother told her. But much of what she includes is common knowledge — for example, that omega-3 fatty acids can be found in certain fish, and that bell peppers are high in vitamin C.
Sales of the book help another cause La Brie is passionate about; 10% of the proceeds go to an organization called Deutsche Cleft Kinderhilfe ABMSS India, which supports surgeries for children born with cleft lip or cleft palate.
With poverty still common in India, especially in rural areas, there is a high incidence of this birth defect, she explained. For every 63 books sold, the organization can pay for one surgery.
In addition to her book, La Brie has five spice mixes coming out this fall. Information about those will be available through her website.
RECIPE: Trimurti Curry
“Sutras of Indian Cooking” is available at websites including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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