Do you cook differently in summer than winter? Many do, turning to fresh, local produce in the summer months, and homey stews, soups and casseroles filled with warm spices and root vegetables in the colder months. It makes sense for saving money (buying what is in season is cheaper), but it's also natural to opt for outdoor grilling when the weather is fine, to shop farmers' markets and harvest what we grow in our own gardens. It's the same for winter, when cozy scents and the oven doing its magic for hours on end is the way to go. The colder months are also ideal for using the province's signature foods like lentils and pulses, honey, and fresh or dried herbs/spices to create a real Alberta-inspired masterpiece.
Karen Anderson, owner of Alberta Food Tours and author of Eat Alberta First, has just released a wonderful cookbook offering recipes gathered from around the province for each season, and each day of the year. The book is also a great primer; a kitchen 101, perfect for novice cooks learning how to stock a pantry, what to keep in a well-equipped kitchen, and how to cook smartly and naturally, with the rhythms of the seasons.
"I cook all the time--it's part of who I am," said Calgary-based Anderson; a traveler (she's been to India ten times), yogi/meditator, tour host and champion of Alberta foods. "These are beloved recipes from my family and friends. We do a lot of casual entertaining, so I've even included tips for organizing a get-together in the book. It's a celebration of the richness of the culture and complexity of food."
In the book's introduction, Anderson calls Eat Alberta First not just a cookbook, but a manifesto. "The aim of the book--to encourage people to source, cook and eat locally and to keep that top of mind--can be adopted by anyone, anywhere," she writes.
Dividing the book into seasons and regions of the province, Anderson also provides the book as a resource; a handy listing of the food artisans around the province; those making cheese, mustards, craft beer and spirits, and so much more.
"Summer is a boon for grilling and using fresh fruits and vegetables like rhubarb, asparagus and haskap berries. Then we transition to fall with preserving, batch cooking and filling the freezer," she added. "We don't realize the bounty we have here in Alberta, from beef to bison, canola, honey, saskatoons, pulses, red fife wheat--we are top world producers for so many foods and we want readers to know where to find and how to use these foods."
Yes, Alberta has four million people and five million cattle, reminds Anderson, so while we can celebrate the beloved steak and burger, there's also the bison to consider, home here for over 120,000 years and surviving against the odds still today. You'll find delicious recipes featuring this great conservation story in the pages of Eat Alberta First, too.
Anderson says there's a continuing movement toward self-reliance--likely heightened by the pandemic when supply chains left grocery store shelves bare--for Albertans wanting to learn homesteading skills like pickling and preserving--even foraging. Recipes like a low-maintenance, easy sweet sourdough starter fits the bill for a simple, versatile recipe to have on hand, as does bison meatloaf with a cranberry barbecue glaze, saskatoon berry crisp and a morel mushroom cheese spread, courtesy of St. Albert-based makers, Untamed Feast.
Tori Elliott, publisher with TouchWood Editions, says Eat Alberta First reminds her of her own prairie upbringing, with recipes and images reminiscent of time spent in her grandma's kitchen.
"The book is nostalgic and welcoming--an homage to shopping local and almost a souvenir of the province," said Elliott. "It's packed with recipes for hearty meals, beautiful photos and so much information for novice cooks and bakers."