Gather 'Round the 'Table'

Tuesday, July 13, 2010 47 comments
Raspberry-Blueberry Cream Cheese Shortcake

During the most frigid days of a Minnesota winter, when the mercury plummets precipitously in November's arctic chill until March, when the lion and the lamb battle it out for symbolic weather supremacy, any thoughts of eating fresh local food are encased in a block of ice. It's not easy picturing just-picked green vegetables and colorful sun-ripened fruit when the landscape is a monochrome of snowy ground and naked trees. However, a new cookbook aims to help thaw this view and show that eating well and locally in Minnesota is a pleasure for all seasons.

A few weeks ago, I received a complimentary copy of The Minnesota Table: Recipes for Savoring Local Food Throughout the Year, filled with essays and artwork from writer/artist Shelley Holl, and recipes by chef and cooking instructor B.J. Carpenter. Part travel memoir and part recipe compilation of their journeys in search of the North Star State's year-round offerings, the book's maroon and gold cover is adorned with a lovely watercolor by Holl of an autumnal lakeside barn, while inside, it is arranged by months rather than chapters, neatly underscoring the theme of seasonality.

Much of the spotlight shines on specific growers and producers, giving readers a personal glimpse at the dedicated work of these men and women, with special attention given to local farmers' markets and CSAs (community-supported agriculture) like Common Ground Garden, run by Benedictine nuns in St. Joesph, MN and one of the state's first such programs. But Holl and Carpenter also demonstrate that procuring the freshest fare often has an even more hands-on, DIY element: essays recount their experiences picking asparagus directly from the field at a U-pick farm and with foraging in the wild for morel mushrooms.

In addition to stories about local growers and producers, the authors also highlight the crop, meat and other foodstuff that are at their peak during a particular month, along with tips on how best to choose, prepare and store them. Throughout the book are sections on 'Planning Ahead' with suggestions and information about various preservation methods, from pickling and canning to freezing, drying and root cellaring. These time-honored traditions of 'putting up' food are currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity as they extend the enjoyment of spring, summer and autumn edibles well into the winter months.

However, if you're more inclined to enjoy them in the here and now, then each month offers several recipes developed by Carpenter featuring peak seasonal ingredients. These dishes do not break any new culinary ground and run along the lines of such classic fare as Minted Crown Roast of Lamb, Green Beans with Toasted Hazelnuts and a pretty Strawberry-Rhubarb Sunburst Pie. But here and there are tantalizing examples of regional specialties, like Wild Rice Dried Cranberry Salad and Lake Superior Smoked Whitefish.

If there is one empty spot on The Minnesota Table, it is that these recipes do not fully reflect the vibrant ethnic and cultural diversity provided by the state's most recent immigrant communities. Mention is made of the strong core of Italian heritage in the Iron Range and, of course, the generations of Scandinavians throughout the Land of 10,000 Lakes. But the sole piece about Asian farming families and a recipe for Vietnamese long beans simply can not encompass the impact of recent newcomers from Latin America, Africa and Asia who have introduced new flavors to the Minnesota menu. Although Holl discusses the greater availability of once-exotic produce and livestock (like Tibetan yaks!) as growers respond to demand, it would have been equally interesting to see how regional foods such as wild rice and rhubarb might be incorporated into the traditional dishes of distant cultures, blending the local with the global.

In her introduction, Holl acknowledges that this book is not the definitive word on local and seasonal eating:
"It is not intended to provide a compendium of ingredients, recipes or food sources, but rather to inspire you to search for the best and freshest ingredients for your table by giving you an intimate, and sometimes artistic, look at the searches we made for our own."
Indeed, although it is called The Minnesota Table and the people, places and many of the foods described within are particular to the region, the book's themes serve as an example of the many ways that eating locally can be achieved, regardless of season or geography. Look to the local farmers' market, CSA or your own garden for the freshest produce; go hunt for mushrooms, fish for lake trout, or pick summer strawberries; or purchase a jar of honey from a nearby apiary or a bottle of wine from a local vineyard. No matter the season, feel free to set your own table.

The Minnesota Table: Recipes for Savoring Local Food throughout the Year by Shelley N.C. Holl with recipes by B.J. Carpenter is available in bookstores, online booksellers and from

Raspberry-Blueberry Cream Cheese Shortcake
(Reprinted with permission from The Minnesota Table by Shelley N.C. Holl with recipes by B.J. Carpenter)

In the spirit of seasonality and an insatiable love of dessert, I had no trouble choosing a recipe to make from The Minnesota Table: this red, white and blue treat that perfectly captures the best of July. Vivid fresh berries and the sparkle of sugar crystals enliven the pillow of whipped or sour cream inside and on top of a shortcake with a poundcake-like texture, thanks to the magic of cream cheese.

Serves 4 to 6

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 tsps baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
A pinch of granulated sugar
1 (3 oz) package of cream cheese (original, not light), chilled and cut into small pieces
4 Tbsps unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup 2% or whole milk
2 Tbsps unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup turbinado sugar, available in co-ops, natural food stores, and most mainstream grocers
1 pint each fresh raspberries and blueberries
1 cup whipped or sour cream*

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Sift flour, baking powder, salt, and pinch of sugar together. Add chilled cream cheese and butter, cutting in with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
2. Pour beaten egg into a measuring cup and add enough milk  to make 3/4 cup; quickly and carefully stir into the flour mixture. Swiftly knead the dough in the bowl just long enough for the dough to hold together, about 20 seconds. Remember: DO NOT OVERMIX; that's why they call it "shortcake".
3. Pat half the dough into a greased, round 8-inch cake pan. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with 1/4 cup turbinado sugar. Pat the remaining dough on top of first layer and sprinkle with another 1/4 cup of turbinado sugar.
4. Bake in center of the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
5. Rinse the berries, add the remaining 1/4 cup turbinado sugar, and let stand.**
6. When the shortcake is done, remove it from the oven to a cooling rack. When cool, split the layers apart***, spread 1/2 cup whipped or sour cream on the bottom layer, and top with half of the berry mixture. Cover the berries with the top layer of shortcake, pressing down gently. Top with remaining 1/2 cup whipped or sour cream and the remaining sugared berries.
7. Cut into wedges, and serve in low dessert, salad or soup bowls.

* I opted to use crème fraîche, which I had to whip when it didn't set as well as desired.
** In spite of my sweet tooth, I left the berries unsweetened.
*** The shortcake came out with a beautiful golden top from brushing melted butter and sprinkling turbinado sugar before baking. However, I worried that splitting the layers would result in unattractive breakage. Instead, I used a biscuit cutter to make individual servings.


  • Cris said...

    Did I ever tell you that this is one of my favorite American desserts? I guess the good memories of when I was an exchange student there, so every time I visit I have to have one! By the way I will be visiting soon! This month... will write an e-mail. And the shirts from my post can be found here: beijos

  • kat said...

    I was supposed to get a copy of this book too but it never came, bummer as I was looking forward to seeing its ideas for cooking seasonably. Shame it misses the Asian & Latin influences as that is often the best way to use the seasonable vegetables.

  • Forager @ The Gourmet Forager said...

    Shortcake! Did you guys have those Strawberry Shortcake toys too? Or was that an American thing anyway? Love the sound of it anyway - especially from the look of that evil wintery photo. Ugh. From a place that gets no colder than about 6 deg Celsius, that's unfathomable.

  • Daily Spud said...

    Funnily enough, I'm reading a similar-ish book at the moment, except it's focused on food producers in County Cork. It certainly does inspire you to go and look for the best of what your own locality can offer (and I'm sure I'd have no trouble doing a local version of that shortcake :) )

    I agree that multi-cultural influences should be fully explored though - they can make local and seasonal food that much more interesting and diverse.

  • Chef E said...

    Tangle- if you lived near me I would invite you to go berry picking with me, I am having so much fun getting things ready for the freezer and canning soon- ready for tomatoes to hit the market!

    Your dessert looks yummy!

  • Threads of Inspiration said...

    Thank you for the book review, and of course, the looks to die for. I have recently moved to the area and am trying to figure out how to eat locally throughout the cold, blustery winter months. This book might be just the thing.

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    So I'm not alone in shortcake love! 8-)

    Penny - This was my first one from scratch and it turned out really well!

    Bergamot - Thank you! It was so tempting to eat the berries while I was trying to plate it. 8-D

    Duo Dishes - Yes! I actually made this for the 4th! Cream cheese and melted butter made this so excellent. 8-)

    Anh - Oh, I hope you'll show us some of the classic desserts you make!

    Cris - Having such wonderful memories make it taste even better, I'm sure! I so wish we could meet up but I know it will happen someday. Thanks so much for the link - those drink shirts are so adorable. 8-)

    Debi - Confession: I enjoyed a small slice of shortcake with a dollop of creme fraiche for several mornings after I made this. 8-) I'm seriously considering making even more . . .

    Doggybloggy - This is so true! 8-)

    Kat - Oh, no! Did you get back in touch with the publisher. I can forward you an email address if you'd like. It's a very good book, in spite of my nitpicking. 8-D

    Forager - My sister had Strawberry Shortcake and all her friends (Blueberry and Lemon, if I recall correctly). That frigid landscape is our backyard! Now you know what I face during those chilly months. 8-)

    Spud - This book really did help me to see that with just a bit of effort, I can still enjoy local even in the depths of winter. Perhaps in their second edition, the authors will decide to include more ethnic recipes using local ingredients! 8-)

    Chef E - I'd love to join you in canning summer's berries! We'll have to plan on it one of these days. 8-)

    Vanillasugar - I'm just starting my shortcake craving for the season! 8-)

    Thread of Inspiration - This book would be a great resource for learning the regions best seasonal, local food. Hopefully, I'll take its lessons to heart and stop complaining about the 'lack' of good fresh food during the winter. Thanks!

    Gera - Hopefully, this shortcake will help to warm you up! 8-)

    Erica - Thank you! The book was a pleasure to read. 8-)

    Jenn - As much as I love fresh berries on their own, I can't resist cream and shortcake! 8-)

  • lisaiscooking said...

    I hear so much about the contributions of Hmong farmers to markets in Minnesota, I'm surprised that wasn't included in the book.

    The golden shortcake looks amazing. Great idea to make it into individual servings!

  • Jessica said...

    Love the pictures on your post. I make every effort to enjoy each season (even though fall is my favorite) and I love the idea of cooking "by the season." Thanks for the delicious recipe and the book review. I'm going to check this one out!

  • The Diva on a Diet said...

    I don't know which I like better ... the looks of this scrumptious shortcake, or that blissfully cool winter photo! Of course our wicked and steamy weather may have something to do with my lust for cooler settings. ;)

    In any case, fabulous post, Noodle, and the shortcake really does look spectacular!

  • Lori said...

    This cookbook sounds wonderful. I think I need to make a goal of traveling around the US and collecting books that represent the different regional/state cuisines.

    We never had biscuit-style shortcake growing up, but as an adult I find it is my favorite. I love the very slight savory flavor sweetened with sugar and of course the sweet berries.

  • Lisa said...

    What a gorgeous shortcake. Came upon your site llooking for something to do with the abundance of blueberries I have on hand and this is definitely a keeper. You have a lovely blog here :)

  • Heather S-G said...

    I like the idea of the book being divided into seasons...especially helpful for us midwesterners who can live out of the freezer and pantry for a few months of the year! Your shortcakes look divine!

  • Trissa said...

    Excellent review of this cookbook - very balanced and the recipe you've chosen to showcase looks wonderful. I can see the sugar topping would definitely make the crust wonderful - and those fresh berries just pop out... delicious.

  • diva said...

    What a great quote from the cookbook. I like cookbooks that make you think on your own! Sorry I haven't visited for a while. Glad I did. I'm in the mood for shortcake and lots of summer berries :)

  • Eliana said...

    This book definitely sounds like a must read. And what an excellent recipe to showcase from it for this time of year. The shortcake, berries and cream look super delicious.

  • Brenda said...

    After a long hiatus from your blog due to internet difficulties/ moving across the globe, I'm glad this was the first post I got to read. The pictures are beautiful and the shortcake looks delicious. I love books like the one you described...wish I could find one for Abu Dhabi!

  • zerrin said...

    The book sounds like a pleasing one. I love that it is arranged by months. Some vegetables can be seen just in one month. And it's always better to try to find foods at first hand. Local farmers markets are great for this.

    This shortcake looks so mouthwatering with its cream and fresh berries. I love its texture too.

    By the way, I must add that your posts always contribute my vocabulary.I know learning never finishes when it is especially about language. Although I am an english teacher, I still have a lot of words to learn. Thank you for this!


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