Two cookbooks that tantalize beyond their recipes

Someone occasionally approaches me about writing an endorsement for a new book, and it’s an invitation that I don’t take lightly. I politely decline unless the project truly catches my attention.

That is how I was introduced to “Life in a Northern Town: Cooking. Eating. And Other Adventures Along Lake Superior.” The newly published book by Wisconsin Historical Society Press ($30) is much more than a cookbook.

Author Mary Dougherty, whom I have yet to meet, explains the rhythms of life as she knows it, and why she is smitten with the northernmost part of Wisconsin. Gorgeous photos drive home the beauty of this lesser-traveled area of the state.

The recipes? They are a surprise because of global influences and the range of complexity. In the mix is something for average home cooks and the culinary expert. The author, who opened and co-operated Good Thyme Restaurant near Bayfield, now makes her mark by blogging as The Cookery Maven. She moved to Bayfield from the Twin Cities in Minnesota.

Look for her to share stories and recipes at Books and Company, Oconomowoc, at 7 p.m. Oct. 18, and at Wisconsin Historical Museum, Madison, from 5-6 p.m. Nov. 3.

Need to work up an appetite before that? Consider this example of Mary’s departure from humdrum autumn cooking. If you can’t find quince, substitute a tart apple.

BRAISED CABBAGE WITH QUINCE, APPLE AND CRANBERRIES
Serves 8

2 tablespoons butter
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 1/2 heads of red cabbage, sliced into ribbons and rough chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup apple cider
1/4 cup apple essence (recipe follows)
6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 cups whole fresh cranberries
1 tart apple, peeled and rough chopped
1 quince, peeled and rough chopped

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add butter and onion and cook, covered, for about 10 minutes. Uncover and cook for 5 minutes longer, stirring occasionally.

Add cabbage and salt and cook until cabbage is wilted, 5 to 7 minutes. Add maple syrup, apple cider, apple essence and cider vinegar to the Dutch oven and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add cranberries, apple and quince and stir to combine. Cover and cook until the cabbage is softened, about 20 minutes longer. Serve immediately.

APPLE ESSENCE

Pour one gallon of fresh apple cider (from the refrigerated section; do not use self-stable apple cider) in a heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven and heat to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

The apple essence is ready when it has reduced to about 2 cups and coats the back of a spoon. Place in a clean container and store in the refrigerator.

Another culinary delight from Wisconsin Historical Society Press, but very different in tone and scope, is “Old Farm Country Cookbook: Recipes, Menus and Memories” ($27). It is a collaboration between beloved Wisconsin author Jerry Apps and his daughter, Susan Apps-Bodilly.

If you want to awaken long-ago kitchen memories or better understand why farm-to-table cooking is not a new concept, this book is for you. Much of what is shared are Depression-era recipes, evidence of hard times. That’s not the same as simpler times.

The Apps family didn’t go to bed hungry, Jerry notes, but his mother was a from-scratch cook who relied heavily on the farm’s bounty and wasted little. Her recipes didn’t always include directions. Some menus fed threshing crews. And, as is often the case, what is most important are the cherished experiences that go along with the finished food.

Listen to Jerry talk about the cookbook at Edgerton Public Library at 9 a.m. Oct. 28; he and Susan are at Reed School, Neillsville, at 2 p.m. Oct. 29.

Here is a recipe from the book, as a nod to the upcoming deer hunting season.

VENISON STEW

2 pounds boneless venison, cut into cubes
2 tablespoons oil
4 1/4 cups water, divided
1/2 cup tomato juice
3-4 small onions, cut in pieces
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 bay leaves
3 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
6 potatoes, peeled and cubed
6 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large rutabaga, peeled and cubed
1 cup peas, frozen or fresh
1-2 tablespoons cornstarch, if needed

In a large pot, brown the meat in oil. Add 4 cups water and loosen any of the meat from the bottom of the pot. Add the tomato juice, onions, celery, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 2 hours. Add the potatoes, carrots and rutabaga. Cover and cook until the vegetables are soft and tender, ab out 1 hour. Stir in the peas and cook for 15 minutes. If needed for thickening, combine the remaining 1/4 cup water and cornstarch and add to the soup.