Prime rib and minty grasshoppers. Feminist farmers and feisty bartenders. The terroir of the North. It’s all here in these five new titles highlighting upper Midwestern foods and authors.
Good Seeds: A Menominee Food Memoir
By Thomas Pecore Weso (Wisconsin Historical Society Press)
“This is how I understand cooking, as part of a family process that includes spirit, the forest environment and fuel for cooking — all before the meal can be prepared.” Sentences like this elegantly express the author’s multiple perspectives as anthropologist, artist, Menominee Indian, family member, cook. Raised in the big, multigenerational home of his matriarch grandmother and medicine-man grandfather, Tom Weso grew up eating (and hunting, gathering and growing) traditional foods along with modern fare. The book is organized by ingredient — beaver, wild rice, maple syrup, etc. — with chapters and recipes on German beer, Wisconsin diner meals and the concession foods at county and tribal fairs. But Weso’s stories are much more than culinary tales or instruction. Plain-spoken and occasionally hilarious, Weso sparks understanding and connection.
A contemporary of Weso who grew up less than an hour away from the Menominee reservation, I learned more about tribal food, culture and family life reading this single slender book than I did in more than two decades as his regional neighbor. Good Seeds is a poignant, important book.
In Winter’s Kitchen: Growing Roots and Breaking Bread in the Northern Heartland
By Beth Dooley (Milkweed Editions)
Many of these same themes resonate in a new book from Minneapolis author Beth Dooley. She gives us solid journalism woven with warm personal reflection in an exploration of the pleasures and promise of the “cold weather” local foods movement of the upper Midwest. This is no screech — it’s a calm, measured study of what’s working in the so-called flyover region, with tales of growers, gatherers and artisans and the iconic foods they produce.
Once a doubting Thomas herself, New Jersey-born Dooley tracks her own journey from leery transplant to enthusiastic advocate, and, as she puts it, she “cooks her way home” to discover that “a locally sourced winter diet is more than a possibility; it can be healthy, community-based, economically just and — most of all — delicious.”
Wisconsin Supper Clubs: Another Round
By Ron Faiola (Agate)
One of my fondest memories of supper clubs is an early one, when several high school friends and I drove in a borrowed green Ford Mustang “up the coast” from Green Bay to the Club Chalet, an A-frame that sat on a rise off Highway 57, and boasted great views of the bay. It was a rite-of-passage adventure that included a swanky, out-of-town destination, Alaskan king crab legs and tub-sized old-fashioneds (illegal, but we got away with it). Countless supper club experiences later, I still get that grown-up, I-belong feeling, and I still relish the classic fare served up with heartland graciousness at such places as those in Ron Faiola’s new hardcover.
Faiola’s second book of supper clubs covers 50 establishments arranged in geographic sections, with big photos on every page. His tone is easygoing and personal, and his stories blend supper club and family history with culinary and architectural description.
Drink Like a Woman: Shake. Stir. Conquer. Repeat
By Jeannette Hurt (Seal Press)
Milwaukee writer Jeanette Hurt’s latest book pays tribute to legendary women from both real and literary life — each with the tale of a gutsy, glass ceiling-smashing crusader, paired with an original cocktail recipe to honor her contributions. Hurt also covers such extras as bar accessories, hangover cures and even the sexist history of American cocktail culture. Boldly illustrated, feistily written and anything but “girly,” Drink Like a Woman is an entertaining antidote to what ails patriarchy-worn feminists. Care for a Frida Kahlúa, anyone? Or how about a Bloody Mary Richards?
Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers
By Lisa Kivirist (New Society Publishers)
Lisa Kivirist would fit right in with the rest of the heroines in Hurt’s book. Kivirist’s latest (she is co-author of four previous books related to food and sustainability) is an engaging and practical guide to farming that’s geared to the fastest-growing group in agriculture — women. As founder-director of an award-winning resource center for rural women, and a local farmer herself, Kivirist is well placed to instruct on the full spectrum of resources that today’s female growers need. She covers risk management, business planning, raising livestock and much more. Along the way, she shares the stories of more than 100 very cool women who are transforming our broken food system.