“Do you know where you are?”
So begins Beth Dooley’s newest book, In Winter’s Kitchen, and her attempt to answer this question after she leaves New Jersey and makes a new home in Minnesota. Dooley explores this question by using the food that grows all around her as landmarks. This book is an ode to place-based food cultivation, cooking, and eating in the Midwest. Dooley is well known in the Minneapolis food scene, particularly for her cookbooks including The Northern Heartland Kitchen and, a favorite in my kitchen, Minnesota’s Bounty: The Farmers Market Cookbook. But, as she notes right from the beginning, this is not a cookbook:
“What follows is neither a history nor a cookbook, but a tale of friendships forged while walking the fields and cooking in restaurant kitchens, making cheese and slaughtering chickens, and how these experiences have helped guide me as I’ve tried to live a more meaningful life.”
In Winter’s Kitchen is at once both personal memoir and instructive non-fiction about local food systems. Each chapter pays homage to a food that is grown or produced in the upper Midwest: Apples, Wheat, Potatoes, Beans and Carrots, Sweet Potatoes, Cranberries, Chestnuts, Corn, Milk, Butter and Cheese, Turkey, and Wild Rice. With each of these delicious chapters Dooley recounts sweet family moments or memories from her childhood in New Jersey, but more interestingly she tells the stories of the local producers and purveyors who grow and defend these staples of our diets. Her stories of farms, markets, orchards, cheese caves, and bogs are rife with vivid descriptions that will take you there even while sitting in your armchair. And perhaps most importantly, you will learn things you never knew about the foods you eat.
I thoroughly enjoyed In Winter’s Kitchen. It’s an intimate book that is both sweet and informative. There is nothing too heavy here, but still ample opportunities for learning and pondering. As a Minnesotan this book gains even more meaning as I get to hear from farmers I buy from at my local farmers’ markets, vicariously visit places that are on my short list, and also learn about some new ones (like a small brick oven bakery in Wisconsin) that are now making that short list much longer. Readers outside of the Midwest will still be transported, and gain plenty of knowledge and enjoyment from In Winter’s Kitchen, but Midwesterners in particular will find themselves sinking into the coziness and nostalgia of In Winter’s Kitchen.