Northern Adventures in Deliciously Natural Food
Some cookbooks make you want to try a new recipe. Michele Genest’s new cookbook, The Boreal Gourmet: Adventures in Northern Cooking (2010, Harbour Publishing Co, Ltd.) makes you want to throw over your civilized life, strap on boots and head north to the Yukon to gorge on the delicious, natural foods this wild country has to offer.
The Boreal Gourmet, lushly illustrated with vivid photographs by veteran Yukon photographer Cathie Archbould, is one of those cookbooks that should become a staple of every cook’s bookshelf. Part memoir, part recipe book, part culinary instruction manual, Genest has created a unique cookbook that entertains, enlightens, teaches, and intrigues.
A self-taught gourmet cook and skilled food writer, Genest paints word pictures that make dishes like Braised Moose Ribs with Espresso Stout and Chocolate and Roast Stuffed Shoulder of Dall Lamb seem both incredibly sumptuous and doable for the average cook. And Archbould’s rich, evocative photos of the food, the land, the people, and the animals of the Yukon make it all seem even more luscious.
Genest’s book stands out, not just for the unusual Yukon ingredients like the birch syrup, wild blueberries, highbush cranberries, grouse, rosehips, wild strawberries, moose, elk, goat, and spruce tips she uses, but also for the intriguingly personal stories she tells. She spins true-life yarns about field-dressing moose, risking life and limb (and the life of her dog, Bella) climbing steep cliffs to find the plumpest blueberries, overcoming her great fear of sausage-making, and more. And it’s all done with good humor and the deft touch of a storyteller in love with the Great North and the bounty of the amazing foods and friends she finds there.
Her engaging writing style makes you want to keep reading, long after you should put the book down and get to your day’s chores. In telling the story of a celebratory lunch after being initiated into a local womens clan of berry pickers, Genest writes: “We lunched by Annie Lake on cheese and bread and caribou sausage. Karon spotted Dall sheep on the hillside across the lake. After lunch, giddy from the clear air and the berries and a nip of brandy, we covered our faces with green dust from the trunks of trembling aspens, stuck berries on our teeth and took pictures, which Lyn circulated later. The caption on the back says, “The Cranberry Witches.”
Lest you think you’ll never have use for a cookbook that offers recipes like Moose Moussaka and Marinated Caribou Blade Steak with Blueberry Reduction, think again. At least half — if not more — of the delightful recipes she offers feature ingredients anyone can buy. How about Roasted Fennel and Red Pepper, or Beet and Turnip Bisque, or White Bean, Rosemary, and Kale Soup? What about Potato-Apple Latkes with Smoked Salmon and Wasabi Crème Faîche? Or Fig, Anise, Hazelnut and Gorgonzola Sourdough Bread? Or Ruby’s Rhubarb Crisp?
And speaking of sourdough, the book’s $26.95 price is worth Genest’s chapter on the subject, including her Sourdough Boot Camp, in which she leads readers through a two-week process of making and then keeping alive their very own sourdough starter. She offers delightful sourdough recipes such as Sourdough Buttermilk Cranberry Scones, Sourdough Pancakes, Sourdough English Muffins, her famous 36-Hour Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls, and even a Chocolate Sourdough Torte.
By the time you finish reading Michele Genest’s The Boreal Gourmet, you feel that you’ve not only received an intriguing snapshot of our mysterious Yukon neighbor, but that you also know a great deal more about the process of lovingly making food from the earth. As an added bonus, you come to regard the author and her northern neighbors and friends as part of your own human family.
The Boreal Gourmet: Adventures in Northern Cooking by Michele Genest, $26.95, is available in bookstores or from the publisher www.harbourpublishing.com Cathie Archbould’s wonderful photos are available at www.archbould.com