Real people are advancing our understanding of ‘real food’ – Twin Cities
Does Beth Dooley’s name mean anything to you? I thought so.
Yeah, Beth and I are going back, not to brag.
I am proud to say that this local culinary treasure, who is not from the country but specializes in local ingredients and has been since she and her husband, Kevin, immigrated here from New Jersey some 40 years ago, was a friend of mine even before she asked for my help in packaging and selling her very first cookbook, “Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland”.
Another friend of Beth, originally from Minnesota, was her co-author of this book. Does the name Lucia Watson ring a bell?
Remember (how could anyone forget?) Lucia Restaurant in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood?
Yes, this Lucia.
Lucia was among the very first local chefs to serve organic and free-range foods when it became apparent that something was missing from the processed foods in supermarkets and freezers.
The difference was so new and unrecognized that most of his clients didn’t even know it was a thing, let alone WHY it was a thing.
Most people still don’t know.
What matters to most people is the price of food.
The type of food served by Lucia is not cheap, even if the farmers who grow it are not rich. His prices were so reasonable they would look ridiculous now.
Lucia’s customers, myself included, had little idea how hard it was to get “real” food. Little did we know that there were fewer and fewer farmers able to make a profit running biodiverse farms that used animal manure instead of synthetic (oil-based) nitrogen fertilizers and practiced integrated pest management instead of RoundUp.
Since old-style farming was by necessity small-scale, it relied on local customers. I joined a co-op around this time (I was then living in Roxbury, Mass.), although I wasn’t sure why, aside from reassurances from friends in my building, all of them being students of botany at Harvard (they were teaching me how to maintain their huge vegetable garden in exchange for free zucchini of which there were always too many), that the local food tasted better and better for you.
Flower gardening was my wake-up call. It was the squash blossoms that I coveted but weren’t allowed to cut until I grew my own several years later.
Flowers aren’t “just for looks”… are they?
But before that, all I really knew about food, farming, or gardening was that Lucia’s Restaurant had the most perfectly harmonious menu in town.
By ‘menu’ I mean the whole package including the venue – everything from the elegant dining room to the wine list was superb.
Lucia and Beth had been friends since day one. They both “got it”. Their shared passion for hearty, delicious food made producing a cookbook together inevitable, with Beth having a talent for writing as well as a background in public relations.
This first cookbook sold well. It was republished a decade later by the University of Minnesota Press. It sold well again.
This led to another book deal, with Beth going it alone this time. The formula was the same: a mix of recipes and folklore and “real food” cooking tips. His titles include “Minnesota’s Bounty: The Farmers Market Cookbook”, “The Northern Heartland Kitchen”, “The Perennial Kitchen”, “In Winter’s Garden”, “Sweet Nature: A Cook’s Guide to Use Money and Maple Syrup” and more recently ” The Sioux Chief.
Co-written with Indigenous chef Sean Seymour, “The Sioux Chef” won the James Beard Award for Best American Cookbook of 2020.
Covid-19 has made it almost inevitable that Beth will launch a Zoom-style online cooking show for people stuck at home. This time, his partner is his son Kip, himself a budding greedy. It’s called “Barebones”.
As for her career as a book publisher, don’t worry that this new online venture is monopolizing her time. Beth has three in the works, all variations on the theme of real food and how to cook it, with a particular focus on “how”.
Two recent trends in organic and outdoor farming – which is now called “regenerative” to embrace growing concerns about climate change and species extinctions, both of which have been accelerated by modern farming methods – are native and/or perennial crops such as Kernsa, a wheat variety that was bred here in Minnesota and at the Land Institute of Kansas with financial assistance from General Mills.
The idea is to reduce millers’ dependence on wheat varieties that require annual plowing, which damages already fragile soils.
“Corn Dance, A Cookbook: Creative First Americas Cuisine” describes techniques being developed or rediscovered or both that will encourage cooks to encourage farmers to plant native corn that is much lower in the fatty acids that make corn sweet bad for our hearts.
Most Americans don’t realize that the corn they see all over the Midwest growing so densely that it has eliminated the traditional rows between the stalks, is not edible by humans. It is either fed to animals, made into corn syrup (and then into sweeteners) or used to make ethanol.
Sweet corn is a completely different plant. Most of it is sold at farmers’ markets and roadside stands, and in supermarkets in the fall.
The purpose of “Corn Dance” is to make readers aware that sweet corn (the kind that humans eat, fresh off the cob and covered in butter) is not as nutritious as sweet corn that the tribes natives have grown and that Beth writes in “Corn Dancing.”
It’s not even terribly sweet.
Native corn not only tastes different (slightly nutty) and probably acquired; it also cooks differently.
That’s where home cooks like Beth come in. And professional chefs like her co-author, Loretta Oden, the legendary Santa Fe restaurateur whose indigenous heritage inspires her cooking.
The second book on Beth’s to-do list was titled “Breaking Bread: Stories and Recipes with an Appetite for Change.”
The third and most personal of the three is a sequel to Beth’s hugely popular memoir “In Winter’s Garden.” This memoir/cookbook she will write with her son Kip, the same son (she has two others) who is her cooking partner at Barebones.
Kip also happens to be the only one of the three who doesn’t have a Minnesota zip code. He lives in DC
Innovation has its advantages. The digital telecommunications revolution has made it possible for Beth and Kip to combine their shared interests of cooking and writing as easily as if they were living across from each other.
I guess that’s progress.
A different kind of innovation allowed a New York State botanist (SUNY-Cortland) to make an exciting discovery. The photograph shows Spiranthes odorata, a native member of the large orchid family that is only a distant cousin of our own native lady’s slipper, and barely a lookalike.
It is, however, closely related to this new Spiranthes, found near Syracuse.
And while the botanist’s name is Michael Hough, he and his colleagues decided the flower should commemorate the man who discovered it in 1982, but never named it.
This man was Charles Sheviak.
Thus, this superb orchid will henceforth be called “Spiranthes ‘Sheviaki’”.
Also note the discovery of several “new” geums in the same area, which is a former Superfund site. The plant that turned out to be new to botanists offers a humbling lesson in plant resilience.
The less populated regions further south, where these geums lived, perhaps had fewer people per square mile (including botanists) than they had the kind of plants that only a botanist would grace with his own. name.
The obscure southern transplants weren’t new at all, but having been forced to relocate by climate change, they were given an identity for the very first time.
They were now officially geums – aka, prairie smoke, old smoke, old man’s whiskers, grandfather’s beard, lion’s beard, or purple avens, depending on where you find them.