Two recent trends in cooking receive the seasonal treatment in splendid new cookbooks this fall.
Since the publication of the 100 Mile Diet in 2007, “locavore” cooking – using only ingredients from local producers – has become a growing phenomenon. Jeff Crump, who is executive chef at the Ancaster Old Mill in southern Ontario, has been ahead of that curve for a while now. As explained in Earth to Table, when Crump met farmer Chris Krucker in 2005, he so admired the quality of organic produce Krucker was growing on his nearby ManoRun Farm that his restaurant committed to buying an annual share of Krucker’s crop under a program called Community Shared Agriculture (CSA).
“[CSA programs] bring the farmer crucial capital early in the year,” writes Crump. Such investors are not looking for financial return, but rather a stable supply of naturally produced food. The commitment meant that whatever Krucker harvested was what Crump had to cook with, and this new cookbook is the result of that relationship.
Crump and co-author Bettina Schormann, Ancaster’s pastry chef, take us through a year of cooking using primarily ingredients from Krucker’s farm. (They bring in ingredients such as citrus fruit and meats from other sustainable producers.) Divided by season into four chapters, and filled with Edward Pond’s vibrant on-site and studio photography, the book offers the sort of recipes one may not always think to cook at home, but which should be nonetheless easy for anyone with a little kitchen smarts.
Spring, for example, brings a simple salad of peas, feta, and mint, and also slow-roasted pork shoulder. Summer offers zucchini and eggplant carpaccio and Korean-style beef ribs. Fall has spot prawns with chanterelles and mile-high pumpkin pie, while winter delivers heartier fare such as rabbit stew and oatmeal molasses bread.
Crump also visits other renowned chefs, such as New York’s Dan Barber and England’s Heston Blumenthal, to compare notes on sourcing and using sustainable ingredients. With its anecdotes about working on ManoRun Farm (something Crump insists all his cooks do), tips on everything from foraging to preserving to composting, and Schormann’s story about working to bring rare Canadian Red Fife wheat back from near extinction, Earth to Table forms a welcome addition to the Canadian cookbook canon that should long outlast any current trends.
The return to nature may be driven by ecological awareness, but another major cooking trend is being driven by financial awareness. Call it culinary retrenchment. The recession has driven many people out of restaurants altogether and back into their home kitchens, where the cost of feeding the family is almost always substantially lower.
Following her 2007 title, Lucy’s Kitchen, Globe and Mail food columnist Lucy Waverman’s latest volume, A Year in Lucy’s Kitchen, offers enough homestyle recipes to meet the needs of just about any home cook.
This is not the book you turn to when you want to make that soufflé to impress the boss. Rather, Waverman shows us how to cook simply but well, using ingredients dictated by seasonal availability. To that end, each calendar month gets its own chapter. The winter months offer comfort foods like Sicilian-style pasta with herbs and cauliflower, spinach gratin, and black cod cassoulet. Spring and summer moves to lighter fare, such as creamy cucumber and arugla soup, mango chicken salad, and cherry pie. The fall turns to shellfish, root veggies, and roasts.
Throughout, sidebars on special celebrations – from Burns Night to Victoria Day to Hanukkah – provide lively holiday menu ideas. Waverman’s husband – a lawyer by day and oenophile by night – offers tips on matching wine to food. And Rob Fiocca and Jim Norton’s photos round out the volume in mouth-watering style – in fact, a spectacular shot of a mustard-glazed standing rib roast is not to be viewed on an empty stomach.
All in all, A Year in Lucy’s Kitchen is the sort of book worth staying home for.