A Local Adventure with “The Minnesota Table”

I am guessing that if you are reading this, you probably have some commitment to local foods. Whether you trek to a Farmers market or shop your Coop or grocers looking for the local label, you seek out food with fewer food miles between you and the grower.

But have you ever taken a tour of the state, seeking out growers, producers and wine-makers? I recently talked to someone who did just that, and the end result is now a book. BJ Carpenter, local chef and locavore, teamed up with Shelley Holl to seek out the Minnesota food gems that are tucked away in small towns and byways across the state. BJ developed the recipes for  The Minnesota Table, Recipes for Savoring Local Food Throughout the Year (Voyageur Press, $25.00) Her friend Shelly wrote the profiles of food makers and farmers throughout the book.

“It was fun,” said Carpenter, “the things we discovered when we got out there, like the Communion Wafer factory (Little Falls), and the largest Yak herd in the US (St Joseph). They were fun trips. Then we stumbled across the Nun who started the first CSA in the state, and even got to pet a big bison. It was a little scary, but he is a pet, who appears in commercials and movies.”

If that doesn’t pique your interest, the book is also packed with lists of u-pick orchards, wineries to tour, and contact info for the places that they found great local foods.

Carpenter’s recipes, though, make up the bulk of the book, and she has crafted a seasonal parade of local bounty. Alongside that are tips for putting up the harvest of each season, whether it is berries, herbs or root vegetables. Handy charts tell you how to blanch, freeze and dry, so you can save your favorites when they are best and cheapest. As an experienced chef and long-time canner and pickler, Carpenter knows people need some tips.

“Our mothers and grandmothers all canned and baked. They didn’t have the luxury of stuff trucked in from Mexico. They ate what was in season. Eating local foods in season is sort of a novelty now.”

Her pursuit of quality is as much a part of her interest in local as any sort of politics. “I call ahead to Mississippi Market to find out when they are making fresh mozzarella. I go get it and go straight home and slice it with some ripe tomatoes. It’s phenomenal how good that tastes. It sounds crazy, but if you put the water on to boil and then go pick the corn, and drop it in for a minute and a half, it’s like nothing you have ever had. My neighbor girl brings me fresh eggs she just gathered, and I cook them right away. There is just no comparison.”

The recipes are crowd pleasers, familar food with updates and tasty touches that make you want to give them a try. Pink Potato Salad, made with pickled beets, or a Roasted Garlic Custard are just a couple of variations on that theme. And for rutabaga fans, there is a rutabaga milkshake recipe from the rutabaga capital, Askov MN.

If you are a locavore and want to find some of the unique gems that your state has to offer, this book is your road map. And if you don’t feel like visiting the farm, you can always bring your treasures home and make the tasty dishes that were inspired by the amazing foods of Minnesota.

Leave a Reply