EDWARDS — Imagine a family gathering around the dinner table overflowing with food cooked with fresh ingredients straight from the garden. Maybe the kids helped to pluck the beans and tomatoes from the vines and got their tiny hands dirty excavating the potatoes and carrots. This picture is a rare reality for some, but for Jennifer McGruther, author of “The Nourished Kitchen: Farm-to-Table Recipes for the Traditional Foods Lifestyle,” it’s everyday life.
Her practical advice and extensive experience help home cooks understand how to cope with Colorado’s short growing season, preserve dairy and produce for year-round consumption and the enjoy the benefits of eating locally.
“My work emphasizes back-to-basics, old-world culinary techniques and simple, traditional home cooking,” McGruther said.
Yes, recipes for butter, homemade yogurt and even meatloaf make an appearance in this beautifully photographed cookbook.
However, she does not view this dedication to traditional cooking as limiting. She emphasizes that hers is a non-restrictive approach to food choices and one that emphasizes whole, natural foods inclusive of meat, fish, dairy, grains, pulses, vegetables, raw foods, cooked foods and fermented foods.
“It doesn’t restrict sugar, salt, fat or carbohydrates,” she said. “Rather, it is ingredient-centered, with a focus on eating and preparing food with mindfulness and intention.”
MORE THAN JUST A TREND
She admits that some readers find her cooking methods to be time-consuming and overly-expensive. However, more than 380,000 fans of her back-to-the-land recipes and blog prove the traditional foods movement is more than just a trend. The recipes are delicious and healthy.
“I’ve personally made many of the recipes in this book,” said Nicole Magistro, owner of The Bookworm. “Hers is a refreshing approach to knowing your food, knowing your farmers and connecting with the process of creating our meals literally from scratch.”
The Portugal cake — a classic, gluten-free confection served widely in the 1800s — is Magistro’s favorite at the moment and will be served at the shop’s event with the author on Friday along with several other salads, meat dishes and desserts from the book.
“I’ve found the recipes to range from very simple to moderately difficult,” Magistro said. “This isn’t French technique; you’ll spend more time picking out the produce at the market or from your garden than cooking it in the kitchen.”
From philosophy to lifestyle
For home cooks, approaching shopping with long-term goals is essential to making McGruther’s cooking philosophy a lifestyle. The author suggests learning to buy effectively in bulk by outlining weekly meal plans and making just one trip per week to the grocery store. She also reminds readers to conjure their frugal great-grandmothers and use the whole animal when including meat on the menu.
“Techniques like preparing broth from a leftover roast chicken or using inexpensive cuts of meat such as ground beef or stew meat instead of prime cuts of steak can help to mitigate the increased cost of buying locally raised, grass-fed meat over conventionally raised meat found in the grocery store,” she said.
Of course, having a garden improves quality and is very economical.
“Among the best things to focus on are springtime vegetables, which are generally well-adapted to high alpine summers: strawberries, radishes, lettuces, peas, scallions, chives and herbs all do well here,” she said. “Root vegetables also do well and include beets, turnips, carrots and rutabaga.”
Starting vegetables indoors or working from starts purchased at area farms can help to make sure you get the most from very short Colorado mountain seasons.
McGruther, who lives in Crested Butte and has space in her community garden, said a combination of container gardening at home and having a larger space among other gardeners works best for her.
“At home, I grow herbs and strawberries in pots,” McGruther said. But her staple crops in the community garden include beets, potatoes, turnips, onions, collards, peas, Swiss chard and more strawberries, plus a wide variety of herbs including mint, oregano, chives, rosemary, basil, marjoram, tarragon and parsley.
A resource list of community gardens, local ranchers, produce growers and other regional food providers will be available on the night of McGruther’s event.
Leigh Horton Bennett is an intern for The Bookworm of Edwards. Email comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.