Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Friday, October 30, 2009: I'm deep in the midst of the final Real Bread baking of the regular market season. Since it is the last market, advance orders have been big. It's a warm day, and I'm surrounded by a dozen bowls of fermenting dough. It's the middle of the afternoon, and the ovens have been on since 8:00 in the morning, and they'll be blazing for several hours more. Then there's the dough to make that we proof overnight and bake in the morning. When I'm all done and slumped in the bathtub (most likely with a scotch on the rocks in hand), Mary will come in to return some order to the floury chaos, and set up ingredients for the scones she'll bake in the morning.
The last baking, and I should be in a good mood, anticipating more carefree weekends as we move into November and December. I am not in a good mood, however. I am, in fact, in an absolutely foul mood, downright owly, as my friend Lynn Ann would say. I'm sick of bread, sick of spending my Saturday mornings in a roasting parking lot after spending all of Friday in a roasting kitchen. I hate the feel of bread dough on my hands, and getting hit in the face by a blast of steam when I open the oven door and forget to step back. As much joy and satisfaction as we've derived from being part of various farmers markets the past seven years, I'm just sick of it all right now. There's no looking at the bright side. I'm just burned out; or maybe more fitting to say, I'm baked.
Mary comes down the stairs and into the kitchen as I'm fuming under the blackest cloud of the day. She says: "Somebody from the historical society press just emailed you. She's been reading your blog and she wants to know if you want to do a cookbook."
And I'm like, "Hell yeah, I do." And all of a sudden I feel a little better.
When I get a chance for a break I go upstairs and read the email. It's from one Shannon Pennefeather, and it begins:
Hello! I’ve been following your Trout Caviar blog and feasting my eyes on your fabulous cast-iron, propane, and grill cooking. Thank you for letting your readers visit Bide-a-Wee with you.
I wonder if you’ve considered collecting your recipes into a cookbook. Perhaps a wild game, freshwater fish, local ingredients approach, given your morel hunting, your trout sorrel sauce, your duck several ways. Enhance the narrative with the theme of living the good life, as every Francophile knows how to do.
I wrote right back with my utter willingness to turn the Trout Caviar blog material into a cookbook. I met Shannon on a chilly November day a couple of weeks later, and submitted an official book proposal to the Minnesota Historical Society Press in early January, and had a contract worked out within a few weeks. In early 2010 my deadline of February 2011 for a finished manuscript seemed a very long ways off. Now I know that a year and a few months to pull together a book of recipes, essays, and photographs is, well, like no time at all.
The idea of the book went through some changes along the way. We skewed the theme to focus on wild foods and foraging; I balked at being labeled a modern day hunter-gatherer (I mean, come on, I'm way too suave and sophisticated to pull that off!), but I happily donned the mantle of "a northern forager." The notion of foraging gets some tweaking in the book's concept. The Trout Caviar notion of foraging embraces seeking out the best possible raw ingredients from many sources--the wild, the market, the garden, specialty shops. This approach, I hope, makes the book useful whether you want to take to the woods to find your supper, or are more comfortable gleaning the best local foods you can find at your co-op. By providing accessible entrée into this way of thinking and cooking, I very much hope that the book will make foraging for wild foods seem not so daunting as it might to the uninitiated.
Some things I learned in the process:
* Writing recipes that are both easy to follow and interesting to read is both an art and a skill, and a lot harder than it looks;
* I don't do desserts;
* But I love cheese;
* 150 recipes is a really lot of recipes;
* While I thought the book might stand out for its meat dishes, I'm really quite proud of my salads, soups, and fish dishes;
* Mushrooms are photogenic;
* Soup is not.
And a lot, lot more. This truly was a learning and changing experience in many ways, some of which I'm probably not even aware of yet.
When I first announced that I was working on the cookbook I put out a call for recipe testers, and several people responded. The fact that I didn't get around to assigning recipes for folks to try was due simply to the fact that I never got organized enough to do so. As the months went by and the pages and recipes piled up, I just had to keep moving forward. With recipes that I wasn't quite happy with, I just chipped away at refining them a bit at a time on my own. I even had Mary test a few recipes for me (note to prospective cookbook authors: DO NOT have your spouse test your recipes, especially when the result is supposed to be your supper). So this is just to say that I really appreciated the offers of help, and I didn't snub anybody who offered assistance--the job just stayed in-house, is all.
I truly appreciate the support and continued readership of everyone who keeps up with Trout Caviar. I'm also extremely grateful to all the great people at the MHS Press who helped put the Trout Caviar book together: Shannon Pennefeather, my editor and the MHS Press managing editor; Pam McClanahan, director, and Ann Regan, editor-in-chief. Dan Leary headed the production staff; Cathy Spengler produced a beautiful design and layout for the book, and Judy Gilats set the type. Nancy Root Miller of Waupaca, Wisconsin, proofread the final version, and her enthusiasm for the book was really encouraging.
The book is dedicated to Mary, Pastry Goddess, Plate Licker, Bread Sniffer, Soup Smiler, and so much more.
Trout Caviar: Recipes from a Northern Forager, sees its official debut tomorrow, Thursday, September 15, 2011.
Cheers, everyone. Many thanks~ Brett