There's nothing like a drive across Texas to help you get through a reading list. Most of the following are from the stack of books I caught up with while on a Thanksgiving trip to the Lone Star State. Thank goodness my husband likes to drive, because the freeway was a drag, while the reading was a treat. These titles are all food-related and published in 2009, and all have a Wisconsin connection.
People of the Sturgeon: Wisconsin's Love Affair with an Ancient Fish (Wisconsin Historical Society Press)
Giant mythological creatures, obsessive scientists and an epic, century-long battle for survival. No, it's not a fantasy or science fiction tale; it's the story of sturgeon in the Lake Winnebago region. Co-authored by UW Sea Grant Institute science writer Kathleen Schmitt Kline, DNR sturgeon biologist Ron Bruch and UW-Milwaukee scientist Frederick P. Binkowski, and with dozens of arresting photos by the late Bob Rashid, the book chronicles the roller-coaster history of these aquatic wonders from prehistoric to contemporary times. Just as arresting as the whiskered, leather-skinned fish are the spearers, decoy makers, caviar briners and volunteer shore patrollers-that is, the devotees whose passion runs as deep as the sturgeon themselves. The book is cultural history, environmental success story and family album all rolled into one. In a word, fascinating.
Recipe for America (Ig Publishing)
If you want sustainable agriculture in this country, it's not enough to shop at the farmers' market or join a CSA. You have to work to change the laws, too. Former Madisonian Jill Richardson adds her voice to the swelling song of local-foods advocates in this call-to-action paperback. She clarifies the hows and whys behind the America's broken food system; explores the barriers to, and benefits of, sustainable agriculture; and offers a raft of ideas for private and political change. She also tells her own story of discovery, struggle and transformation. Indeed, Richardson skillfully packs a lot into a little space, making this a good choice, in these penny-pinching times, for gift-giving or personal revolution.
Landscaping with Fruit (Storey Publishing)
Due to a porch remodel happening at my house, I've had landscaping on my mind this season. Wanting to plant fruit trees next year but knowing next to nothing about it, I put a call out into the universe-and the universe answered with this lush guide by UW alumnus Lee Reich. It includes everything from design basics and planting consideration to pruning and pest control. (Naturally, as a cook, my favorite was the culinary usage sections). The photos are glorious and the coverage is thorough. Someday, with Reich's help, I'll be lounging on my new porch watching currants, gooseberries and cherries ripen right outside the window.
Market Fare (The Cow Republic, LLC)
This is a culinary and pictorial salute to the Dane County Farmers' Market by Madisonians Pam and Michael Druhan. You can tell there's a trained cook behind the recipes; dishes like Madison Market Steak Cobb Salad and Pear, Leek and Gruyere Turnovers have a gourmet, celebratory feel. A portion of the book's proceeds is being donated to the Friends of the Dane County Farmers' Market and the Family Farm Disaster Fund of Farm Aid.
The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin (University of Wisconsin Press)
Cheesemakers have for too long been undervalued in our culture, and I'm so glad to see a book that gives them their due. Peruse this photo-rich, artfully written profile of cheddar, havarti and muenster makers, in fact, and you will want to rise from your chair to give them a standing ovation. James Norton's words and Becca Dilley's pics bring you right into the factory, where you can breathe in the milk-sweet aroma, soak up the tradition and listen to the stories of more than 40 certified master cheesemakers around the state. These folks wear the Super Bowl ring of cheesemaking-an honor earned after years of rigorous practice, study and testing. You'll not find a more gifted, hard-working or likable bunch.
Meals and Memories (UW-Madison Odyssey Project)
This slim, spiral-bound cookbook-let was created by graduates of UW-Madison's Odyssey Project, which helps economically challenged citizens attend college. The book came out of a summer workshop that used memories of food as a framework for discussion and writing practice. The little gem may look unassuming, but it is a powerhouse of personal memoir and down-home cooking. (Copies are available for purchase through the Odyssey Project office; call 608-262-3885 for more information.)