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Cookbook review: The Farm by Ian Knauer

Rustic recipes follow the growing season from a revived family farm in Pennsylvania.

By Allison TerryCorrespondent / July 28, 2012

A rhubarb-sour cream crostata pie made from a recipe in "The Farm" by Ian Knauer.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / © Hirsheimer & Hamilton

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Imagine going out to the garden in the evening, still undecided about what to make for dinner. Wandering around the patches of fresh produce – zucchini, corn, cilantro, tomatoes, and lettuce – a few ingredients begin to form a meal.

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Staff writer

Allison Terry works on the web team at the Christian Science Monitor, coordinating online infographics. She contributes to the culture section and Global News blog, and previously reported and edited for the national news and cover page desks.

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Watch a trailer of "The Farm" by Ian Knauer.

Maybe it’s asparagus and green beans to go with roast chicken. Or perhaps cilantro and jalapeños to spice up chicken wings. Don’t forget strawberries for dessert.

If you are like me, utterly unimaginative when it comes to combining ingredients (let alone how to grow them), a recent cookbook may help expand the spectrum of what is possible in the kitchen – all with ingredients fresh from the farm.  

The Farm: Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food, by Ian Knauer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2012, $30) introduces readers to the process of how our food ends up on our tables. The farm-to-table movement is a way of life for Mr. Knauer, who shows how an appreciation for the land can unlock a new world of flavors and ideas.

In the foreword, former Gourmet magazine editor in chief Ruth Reichl writes, “Ian’s cooking begins in the garden and the fields; he demands an intimate relationship with his ingredients.”

Knauer started out at Gourmet as a cross-tester – he acted like a potential reader and tested all the recipes before they were published. Eventually he worked his way into a food editor position where he concocted his own recipes in the magazine’s test kitchen. He often brought in produce he raised himself, or meat he killed while hunting (he shares a tale of his first hunting expedition in the book).

His expertise in the basics of fresh ingredients comes from doing chores on his grandfather’s farm during his childhood and teenage years – mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, picking strawberries, and collecting walnuts. An immigrant German patriarch founded the farm (and the village of Knauertown) in the late 1700s and passed it down through generations of the Knauer family. Knauer’s grandfather was the last to work the land, until decades later when Ian Knauer, his sisters, and cousins started to replant the untouched farm and reconnect with their childhood memories.

The recipes in “The Farm” follow the seasons, using ingredients in their prime for the best flavor. Beets and strawberries come earlier than corn or peaches. Patience is key with growing peppers because they only flourish in the peak heat of summer. As the summer months begin to cool, butternut squash and chard are in abundance. 

Beyond recipes, Knauer provides cooking tips from his years of experience. The best way to cook a hard-boiled egg, for instance, is to bring the water to a gentle boil and let it simmer. Hard-boiling has nothing to do with it. He explains how to differentiate between poisonous and nonpoisonous mushrooms when foraging on the farm: nonpoisonous chanterelles grow in groups of no more than two from the dirt, and they have fork-like veins instead of gills. Another handy skill is how to roast a pig. He advises digging a pit in case you don’t have a spit. (I have a friend who has annually hosts a pig roast in urban Washington, D.C., so this can be done even if you don’t live on a backcountry farm in Pennsylvania.)

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