I have 125 cookbooks (including reference works and food writing). If I didn’t cull them regularly, I’d probably have over 200. And that doesn’t even make me a Cookbook Addict—you should log onto the cooking forums at Chowhound. Some of those posters have THOUSANDS of cookbooks, with entire rooms devoted to their collections. Still, having so many cookbooks, even if I shop for them pretty judiciously, means that I am likely to add to my collection when I visit new places. Seriously, they are the best souvenirs! Luckily for me, writing this blog means that some of these are for research purposes and not subject to my “if you get a new one, you’ve got to discard an old one” rule. So, on my trip to the Leelanau Peninsula, I came home with not one, but TWO new ones, both Flyoverian in nature. I give props to myself because I purchased both of them at independent bookstores.
I purchased Jaye Beeler’s Tasting and Touring Michigan’s Homegrown Food (with beautiful photography by Dianne Carroll Burdick) at the very charming Leelanau Books in Leland, Michigan. This isn’t really a cookbook per se–there are about thirty recipes at the end of the book, but that isn’t the focus of this tome. Rather, Beeler’s book introduces us to the producers of fine Michigan food wares. We get to know the orchardists, the dairy farmers, the cheesemakers, the vegetable growers, the fishers, and the livestock farmers. We are introduced to the markets and other places where these goods can be purchased. And we meet the chocolatiers–yes, that is plural. The subtitle of this work is A Culinary Roadtrip, which is what Beeler and Burdick undertook to acquaint us with the people behind the food. The book is a highly visual pleasure, with Burdick’s photography bringing us close to the food and the people.
So, who are some of these people? There’s John and Anne Hoyt, who produce award-winning raclette, as well as fromage blanc, in Suttons Bay. There’s John Van Voorhees and Joan Donaldson, whose back-to-the-land philosophy and admiration for the works of Wendell Berry led them to grow organic blueberries in Allegan County. There are the Crosses, who run John Cross Fisheries in Charlevoix. There’s Greg Willerer (also known as Brother Nature), who began Detroit’s first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) enterprise. You’ll meet these—and many others—as you vicariously join Beeler and Burdick on their road trip.
The book’s strength lies in its ability to connect the food we eat to the people who raise, grow, and catch it. At a time when so many people are starting to question where their food comes from and who produces it, this book (though published in 2012) feels very timely. I applaud the author and photographer for compiling this for those of us who want to get to know our providers and who want to know the stories behind their livelihoods. I want to know WHY someone chose to farm or fish, since it certainly isn’t with the idea of getting wealthy. What is the draw? This Beeler tells us.
Still, as much as I love this book (and I am definitely glad to have purchased it), I do have some quibbles. It certainly needed another go-round with the editing, as there are numerous typos. Also, the photographs lack captions—while not necessary for all photos, many of them would have benefitted from a caption to tell me exactly what or who I am looking at. And, very important to me as a culinary GEOGRAPHER: WHERE ARE THE MAPS? Not everyone knows where the cities and towns of Michigan are. Sure, we know where Detroit and Grand Rapids and Lansing and Traverse City and Marquette are, but Fennville? Kaleva? Cross Village? A map somewhere in the text would have been a nice touch, giving the reader an ability to orient himself or herself.
Overall, though, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in knowing where their food comes from (and I would hope that would be just about everybody). It’s a work with value for food enthusiasts, locavores, and Midwesterners in general, not just Michiganders. It now has a welcome spot in my culinary bookshelf. Thank you, Jaye Beeler and Dianne Carroll Burdick!
Jaye Beeler was the food editor at the Grand Rapids Press for many years. With a strong interest in eating locally, she is the perfect person to write this book.
Dianne Carroll Burdick is an instructor in photography at Grand Rapids Community College and Kendall College of Art and Design. She also teaches photography workshops at Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park (a place worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Grand Rapids!)