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Cookbooks as Gateways to the World and Your Local Market

By Jennifer Nemec

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A photo of Jenn NemecI'm not that into cooking (as you can read in my potato salad and Thanksgiving dinner posts). I can do it if I have to. I have actually had days when I've enjoyed the process, but these are few and far between. Finding the time to go to the store (because I never have the right stuff in my house) and then prepare everything, well, I find that difficult. So, imagine my surprise to find myself reading a cookbook.

I was visiting my parents, and my mom (who seems to be involved in all my cooking stories) had rediscovered an old favorite and had discovered a couple of new ones in the bargain. Herald Press and the Mennonite Central Committee have a collection of lovely cookbooks that are being sold as "World Community Cookbooks."

More-with-Less Cookbook originalThe first and oldest is the More-with-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre. Originally published in 1976, this book was an early entry in the caring for the world while eating better, improving nutrition and saving money category. My mother has a very well-worn copy in her kitchen. Our editor-in-chief, KC, walked by my desk and picked up the 25th anniversary edition from my desk. She hugged it close and said, "I learned so much about cooking from this cookbook. It brings back so many memories." It does for me as well. When I look at the cover, I can see and smell the kitchen where mom cooked when I was younger. KC mentioned one of her favorite recipes involved enchiladas.

The next in the series is Extending the Table: Recipes and stories from Argentina to Zambia in the spirit of More-with-Less by Joetta Handrich Schlabach. First published in 1991, it begins with a map showing where the stories and recipes come from. It is a joy to read, with recipes from Ginger Tea as made in the Dominican Republic to Groundnut Stew from Ghana to Saudi Arabian Chicken Stew. And all the recipes have stories.

Simply in Season cookbookThe one that got me reading, though, was Simply in Season: Recipes that celebrate fresh, local foods in the spirit of More-with-Less by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert. Created from some 1,600 recipes that were tested rigorously, it is divided into seasonal sections based on what fruits and vegetables are available. Perhaps one of the most beautiful cookbooks I've ever seen, each recipe is again accompanied by a thought or story.

One of my favorites: "For me gardening is a connection to my rural roots, to my parents and grandparents who loved the soil and to my daughter who, though an urban child, has grown to love gardens also," from Joan Gerig of Chicago (page 125).

The MCC has put together a group of study sessions around this cookbook that explore the value of eating local, seasonal food. The Simply in Season leader's guide is available for download (or purchase in hard copy) from their website.

But it doesn't end there, the most beautiful of all the books and the one that caught my attention on my mom's shelf is the one created especially for kids, the Simply in Season Children's Cookbook. It's a gorgeous book with simple and fun recipes you can make with the little ones in your life. I think my mom was thinking of my nephews (they seem to really like to help out in the kitchen).

I've still only scratched the surface of these, but I intend to spend some more time in my kitchen, learning about the world community and seasonal foods. I'll keep you posted!

Photos courtesy the Mennonite Central Committee.