Dec. 22----With the release of her new 2021 cookbook, "Home Cooking Comeback: Neighborly Advice & 40 Pleasing Recipes From the Farm Kitchen of a Midwestern Food Journalist," author Jennifer Rude Klett hopes to better acquaint home cooks with Midwestern fare and extend the trend of cooking and baking at home.
Klett, who currently resides in rural southern Wisconsin, wrote the cookbook in part to pay homage to her Minnesotan roots, including instructions for homemade sugar cookies that she's adapted from her grandmother's recipe.
"I've lived all over southern Wisconsin my whole life, and it's interesting because my mother is from Raymond, Minnesota, and so I think that really shaped my background quite a bit," Klett said. "I've always thought of Minnesota as my second home. We always spent vacations in Raymond, Minnesota. (I) really love that state."
A former newspaper reporter turned freelance journalist, Klett first started covering food after writing a 2015 story for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about how World War I changed our diet.
"After years as a food journalist and seasoned home cook, it was time to share insights, tips and 40 of my personal best recipes," Klett said. "They include tasty main courses, sides and sumptuous desserts that I make all the time. Anyone can make these recipes."
Inspired in part by the increased interest in home cooking during the pandemic, which closed restaurants throughout the country and kept people home, Klett decided to focus on a cookbook that highlighted ingredients local to the upper Midwest.
"The pandemic was really kinda the kick in the pants," she said. "It's fascinating to me, because, how did people react to the pandemic? They baked. And so, I've been sort of nagging people for years, you know, 'Cook at home, cook at home, cook at home,' and so I thought this was a very good time for a cookbook."
Klett supports cooking at home for many reasons: "It tastes better. It helps you to be self-sufficient. It's better for your health because you can control what you eat better. It's less expensive. And it helps you to create that wonderful food culture and create food memories. And I think those things were always there, but I think the pandemic really drove home the importance of these things."
The pandemic, in Klett's experience, also drove people toward the hands-on aspect of creation.
"I think that's another thing that's happening right now as far as trends, that people are getting a little sick of looking at things and being passive and having screens in front of them," she said. "They want to do something with their hands. And they want to create something themselves."
Klett's cookbook is written in two sections: Neighborly advice about food and home cooking takes up the first part, and 40 recipes tweaked and refined over decades of experimentation fill the back half.
Chapters in the cookbook cover foods grown, raised or produced locally in the Midwest, including cheese, black raspberries and cranberries, beef, maple syrup, dry beans, butter, wheat, potatoes and milk. But it's not just about the ingredients, or the methods of combining them into a dish meant for serving up.
"I wanted not just to throw recipes at people, but to explain to people why it's important to use certain ingredients, and 'This recipe is good when you don't have any time, or you're very tired,'" Klett explained. "I've learned a lot over the years, and I felt this is a way to combine sort of a consumer aspect to buying food and then also hands-on recipes that you can make in your own kitchen."
One of those recipes is held dear to Klett's heart: Her grandmother, who lived in Raymond her entire life, was known for her sugar cookies. Those cookies — found under Olga's Super Sugar Cookies — are a pathway to memories Klett treasures, and also that inspired her cookbook.
"Raymond was such a special place for me growing up, and one of the things it taught me was — when my grandmother passed away, I was 12, and Raymond is a very small town," Klett said. "When that happened, I think every single neighbor brought food to my grandfather to help him through it."
Klett's grandparents lived in a home built in the early 1900s, and "back then, the dining room was the center of the house, and it was as big as the living room."
"I remember that they had a huge dining room table and it was covered in food," Klett said. "Everybody came to the front door with their condolences and with a dessert (or) a hotdish, and I remember the joke at the time was 'I hope somebody brings ham sandwiches,' because we were all craving ham sandwiches."
No one brought ham sandwiches, but the memory of that outpouring of community support is one that stays with Klett today.
"I think that was a lesson that home cooking is not just about the food," she said. "It's about the gesture; it's about our culture. One of the reasons I wrote this cookbook is that I don't want to lose that culture."
Released this fall, "Home Cooking Comeback" is available online at amazon.com ($24.99 paperback or $12.99 e-book), or signed copies may be purchased at any of the appearances listed at jrudeklett.com.
"Home Cooking Comeback" is Klett's first cookbook and her second nonfiction book. Her first book, "Alamo Doughboy: Marching Into The Heart of Kaiser's Germany During World War I," about five Minnesota men who served in France during the Great War, was published by Brandon Books in 2014 with a second edition now available online at amazon.com.