KANSAS CITY, MO.
IF the idea of ''prairie cuisine'' conjures up images of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, boiled vegetables, and dishes made with cream-of-mushroom soup, the cookbook ''Pure Prairie'' will provide an eye-opener. With concoctions such as Grilled Shrimp Cocktail With Quinoa and Cumin Cream; Chicken Breasts Stuffed With Festiva Cheese; and Sunflower Pear Salad With Warm Brie Crostini, author Judith Fertig shows that living in the Midwest doesn't mean having to cook out of a can. In her cookbook (Two Lane Press, 139 pp., $15.95), Ms. Fertig has put together a collection of 120 recipes that show off not only the abundant variety of foods indigenous to the prairie region of North America - from Kansas and Missouri to the grassland provinces of Canada - but also inventive ways of putting them together. ''Prairie food doesn't have to be glitzy or trendy,'' the author said in a recent interview. ''It's basically really good stuff.'' While not all the recipes here evoke images of pioneers or cowboys, Fertig says that prairie cuisine is a combination of indigenous ingredients and food traditions. ''Some of it is pioneer food,'' she says, ''but I wanted to give the book a contemporary twist. These are some of the wonderful foods that we have here, and these are some of the things that contemporary people do with them.'' Some recipes, such as her homemade pretzels, have been in her family. Others, such as Apple-Smoked Turkey, Buffalo-Black Bean Chili, and Blue Cheese Coleslaw, give a present-day turn to traditional fare. The recipes in ''Pure Prairie'' also reflect the influence of native Americans on prairie cooking, as well as the touches of others, from early French traders who inhabited the area to later Scandinavian, Bohemian, German, and Southern black settlers. Fertig's recipe for Persimmon Flans With Honeyed Whipped Cream, for instance, not only reflects the influence of Mexican settlers, but also shows how the author uses local foods - such as the native persimmon - to blend the traditional with the contemporary. The recipes may sound time-consuming, but Fertig assures they're not: ''Because I'm a working mom, I like things that are easy but taste good. What I wanted with this book were recipes that include wonderful ingredients that aren't going to take you a great deal of time to put together into a wonderful dish.'' Fertig, a native of Ohio now living in the Kansas City area, didn't always appreciate the native foods of the Midwest. Living abroad for three years, she was astonished to find that in England a maple tree is a prize plant; goldenrod is sold in garden stores; and in rural France, dandelions are cultivated for greens. She returned to the Midwest ''with new eyes'' and began to notice the native foods - chokecherry, black walnut, and mulberry trees - that quite literally grew in her own backyard. During her two years putting together the recipes for ''Pure Prairie,'' Fertig also rediscovered the literature of the prairie. She includes in the margins of her book excerpts, which range from firsthand accounts of early settlers and native Americans to the writings of Willa Cather, Laura Ingalls Wilder (''Little House on the Prairie''), and Garrison Keillor. The book is filled with interesting nuggets of history and lore related to the Midwest. Some of the recipe names are humorous nods to popular images of the prairie, such as Auntie Em's Cheddar Biscuits, Fly-Over Country Comfit, Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie, and Tornadoes, named for the ''funnel clouds'' of pecan meringue that touch down on dots of whipped cream and pools of fruit sauce. In case your local grocer doesn't carry amaranth flour or huckleberry syrup, Fertig includes a source guide to help track down some of the more obscure ingredients. Morel mushrooms, wildflower honey, smoked game meats, heirloom apples, exotic charcoal chips, and prepared vinegars, chutneys, sauces, and preserves are just a sampling of things available by mail order.Skip to next paragraph
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