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I am a sucker for a good country living/small-scale farming/local-eating memoir (any and all of the above). I grew up in the country. My family raised much of our food in our garden, kept chickens bees, and baked our own bread, as much as we could. Reading these memoirs reminds me of home, I suppose.
I recently read “The Feast Nearby: essays and recipes by Robin Mather.” She was the food editor at the Chicago Tribune, but in 2009 she was laid off from her job – the same week that her husband asked for a divorce. She moved to the weekend getaway cabin she and her husband had owned on a lake in Michigan.
Her cabin had too much shade for a full garden, so all she could grow was a small herb bed. She also had a small flock of chickens. The majority of her food came from neighbors’ gardens (which she bartered for), farmers markets, or locally-owned grocery stores.
Unlike some other writers who identify as locavores (someone who eats foods grown locally whenever possible, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary), Mather is willing to order things that are not grown locally when there is no local option – like spices, coffee and chocolate. She does try to either purchase those things from locally-owned grocery stores (she considers spending money in her community being a good neighbor) or orders them from companies that pay a fair market price to a farmer somewhere else.
The book is divided into four sections by season and each section contains 4-6 essays with multiple recipes following each essay. The recipes all revolve around foods that are either fresh during that season, or that could have been preserved at home during a previous season.
I will be looking for pie pumpkins to can this fall now that I know a quart of pressured canned pumpkin pieces can be pureed later and are the equivalent of a 15-ounce can of store bought pumpkin. I am looking forward to pumpkin bread made with local pumpkins.
The winter squash risotto also intrigued me. I love risotto, but most of the recipes I have seen either involved spring vegetables, like asparagus, or mushrooms which I do not like. Her jambalaya recipe sounds lighter than most of the ones that I have seen before. And she not only includes a recipe for dehydrating cherries, but also a list of ways to use them, including in salads and cookies.
The first recipe I intend to try, though, is acorn squash baked with sausage and maple syrup.
It does not sound good, but she raved about it so much that I am willing to try it. I look forward to serving this dish to my family. It was listed in the spring dishes section, but I was able to locate an acorn squash and I already had maple syrup.
Baked Acorn Squash
with sausage and maple syrup
2 acorn squash
1 pound bulk sage pork sausage
½ cup pure maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cut the squash in half from stem to tip. Scoop out the seeds and discard. Cut a piece off the back so the squash will sit levelly in the baking dish.
Divide the sausage into four portions, and use it to fill the squash halves. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of maple syrup over the sausage. Add 1 inch of water to the baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil.
Bake the squash for 1 hour or until the squash is tender when pierced. Serve immediately.