New books: Wisconsin food, culinary tourism

This week, we’re all about good taste. Two new books contain many morsels of insight about what you eat, at home or while traveling.

Before Terese Allen was my friend, she was a solid news source for just about anything concerning food. I remain one of her fans.

Terese concocts wonderful recipes, some for Organic Valley in La Farge, because she is the family farm co-op’s food editor. She also assumes the role of citizen evangelist and activist, full of praise for locally grown foods and chefs who cook with the seasons.

She sniffs out small-town bakeries, butcher shops and other businesses that take pride in generations-old recipes and heritage. She documents food traditions, ethnic influences and culinary history. That includes an essay about church suppers in “The American Midwest,” a thick and interpretive encyclopedia, published in 2007 by Indiana University Press.

“It’s a way of looking at how food is culture,” she told me at the time, describing church fish fries, spaghetti dinners, salad luncheons and pork hock feeds as contemporary cultural traditions. “Nowhere else do they reflect the values of a region as strongly” as in Wisconsin.

Cooking has long been more than a hobby, just as food is more than her sustenance.

Now Terese introduces an updated version of “The Flavor of Wisconsin: An Informal Guide to Food and Eating in the Badger State” (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, $29.95). The original “Flavor of Wisconsin” was written in 1983 by food journalist Harva Hachten, who died in 2006.

The proliferation of artisan products, farmers’ markets and organic farming are acknowledged in this new edition. So are popular ethnic recipes – including the Middle Eastern baba ghanoush and Mexican tamale fillings – that have emerged on more of our kitchen tables and restaurant menus.

Consider “Flavor of Wisconsin” as one part history lesson, one part cookbook, one part snapshot of food traditions. Inside are more than 400 recipes, plus narration and photography about what makes Wisconsin products and meals distinctive.

For more, consult Terese will talk about the book at 7 p.m. June 9 at Barnes & Noble West, 7433 Mineral Point Rd., Madison; and 7 p.m. June 25 at McMillan Public Library, 490 E. Grand Ave., Wisconsin Rapids.

A 1:30-3:30 p.m. presentation at Pendarvis, a state historic site on Shake Rag Street in Mineral Point, will include discussion of Terese’s book, food samples from local businesses and a presentation about traditional fermented apple cider by Deirdre Birmingham and John Biondi of nearby Regan Creek Farm.

“It is so important to remember the hows and whys of beloved ingredients and recipes, why they come to be claimed by us and how they travel with us in time,” Odessa Piper, founder of Madison’s L’Etoile restaurant, writes in the book’s forward. “At the heart of such cooking is a back-story, folded in with the swirl of tastes, textures, lessons and tales that is our collective culinary intuition.”

Wisconsin gains respectable representation in “Gourmet Getaways: 50 Top Spots to Cook and Learn” (Globe Pequot Press, $16.95) by Joe David, a food writer in Virginia.

“At an age when many of my colleagues were following a sensible career path to glory and riches, I was traveling the world eating,” he writes, noting that cooking classes can range from intense instruction and advanced cooking techniques to laid-back and social encounters that happen to end with a good meal.

The best match for you will depend upon your level of gastronomic interest and expertise, your budget, time and traveling companions. Do you want to be a participant or observer? Is this education or entertainment? Classes can be hands-on – where you do the work, or a demo in which the teacher does all.

Expect recipes as well as cooking school descriptions in “Gourmet Getaways,” which includes:

Savory Spoon Cooking School, 12042 Hwy. 42, Ellison Bay, which Janice Thomas opened in 2004. She also conducts “kitchen christenings” in private homes, typically to help a new homeowner understand how to use high-end appliances., 920-854-6600.

Destination Kohler events and classes at The American Club and the Shops at Woodlake, which range from one-hour demo classes on Saturdays from January to April, to multiple choices during the Food & Wine Experience during a weekend in October., 920-457-8000.

Madame Kuony’s Kitchen at the Milwaukee Public Market, 400 N. Water St., Milwaukee, where notable chefs conduct 90-minute classes throughout the year., 414-336-1111.

The Washington Hotel Culinary School, 354 Range Line Rd., Washington Island, schedules classes in summer and by appointment for groups, with an emphasis on how to use locally grown ingredients and products in creative ways. Chef Leah Caplan no longer is at the helm; she has begun work as a food consultant., 920-847-2169.

Although the book also talks favorably of Jill Prescott’s Ecole de Cuisine in Sheboygan County, the chef has moved to Asheville, N.C. She says her teaching plans do not include classes in Wisconsin this year, but check for future developments.