Follow the seasons, buy local for a sound body and healthy planet, new book advises

"Simply in Season," a new cookbook from the Mennonite community, is an oddity, co-author Cathleen Hockman-Wert admits.

Bill Wade, Post-Gazette
Oven Pancake with Asparagus, Mushrooms and Cheese from "Simply in Season," a Mennonite cookbook.
Click photo for larger image.

"Most environmental groups -- Christian environmental groups -- don't do cookbooks."

Environmental activism, religion and good food might seem like uneasy bedfellows in a single book, but "Simply in Season" isn't the first of its kind. It's a successor to "More-with-Less," a simple cookbook that became a household name in many non-Mennonite kitchens, selling more than 800,000 copies since its first printing in 1976. "More-with-Less" started out as sort of a church cookbook developed on a nationwide scale, with recipes contributed by Mennonites who shared an interest in conserving the world's resources.

Its first successor, "Extending the Table," includes ethnic recipes from all over the world. The new "Simply in Season" encourages people to eat fresh, local foods, focusing on fruits and vegetables.

But it's more than recipes. It's part mystic, part activist and part gourmand.

Some of that diverse perspective comes from the strikingly different voices of its two authors, Mary Beth Lind of Harman, W.Va. and Hockman-Wert of Corvallis, Ore.

Lind captured their differences: "I have more of the nutritionist's and gardener's perspectives, and Cathleen has the perspectives of a journalist and a farmer's market buyer. She's Gen-X; I'm baby boomer. I probably provide more of the spirituality aspect and she provides the environmental, although both are important to both of us."

The recipes are grouped into "Spring," "Summer," "Fall" and "Winter" chapters, featuring recipes that use fruits or vegetables locally available during each season, plus an "All Seasons" chapter on baked goods and other nonseasonal foods. A useful "Fruit and Vegetable Guide" provides photos, descriptions, and selection and preparation tips for almost any domestic fruit or vegetable.

Each chapter ends with an "Invitation to Action," with suggestions such as starting a community garden, shopping at farmer's markets or requesting country-of-origin labeling in grocery stores.

The book intersperses recipes with gardening stories, meditations, Bible verses, and environmental and global-issue musings.

Some have a negative tone: Lind contributes a tidbit about birds not befouling their own nests although humans befoul their land with pesticides, and Hockman-Wert contributes a bit about subjugated farm workers.

But most stories are upbeat meditations on such topics as gardening and God's bounty.

"I wanted to include a variety of responses to show the different ways people come to the topic of how to eat ethically and joyfully," Hockman-Wert said.

The result is a book that promotes a worldview while largely avoiding a "cram-it-down-your-throat" tone.

Bill Wade, Post-Gazette
Zucchini Brownie from "Simply in Season," a Mennonite cookbook
Click photo for larger image.Bill Wade, Post-Gazette
Sausage and Greens Soup with potatoes, green onions, sweet Italian sausage and kale from "Simply In Season," a Mennonite cookbook.
Click photo for larger image.

"One thing we decided [when updating the more lecture-prone 'More-with-Less'] was that people don't read anymore," Hockman-Wert said.

As a result, snippets replaced the earlier book's longer essays on eating responsibly.

"We're selling our message pretty gently; I hope it gets through."

She does think the book could change people's choices.

"My own eating habits have changed pretty dramatically as I learned about these things."

She hopes the book will make people "aware that our food has a story," with growing techniques, pesticide use, farm worker issues and fair trade issues all playing into that story.

Hockman-Wert said people should decide where they stand on these issues and then "vote with their dollars" and buy foods whose stories fit their values.

Farmer's markets, Community-Supported Agriculture farms -- where people buy a share and get a weekly load of whatever grew on the farm that week and which are known as CSAs, -- and local farms provide opportunities for people to ask how food is grown and get to know more of its story, she said.

Lind has a similar perspective.

"I think the key is making connections -- seeing food as a process, not just a product.

"You don't connect with your food when you just go to the store and buy it."

Lind hopes the book will motivate people to begin making more connections with their food, whether they grow it themselves, buy it at a farmer's market or merely start to recognize which foods are in season at a given time.

Overall, though, both authors said the point was not to promote merely seasonal or ethical food but good food -- that's how their message ultimately will sell.

"It's a no-brainer," Hockman-Wert said, taking on a joking tone. "What a terrible thing -- to make a better world, you have to eat good food."

"Simply in Season" ( $19.99) is available through Herald Press at 800-245-7894 or through online booksellers such as

Vegetable or Fruit Oven Pancake

PG Tested

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2/3 cup asparagus, cut in 1-inch pieces
  •   3/4 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  •   1/4 teaspoon salt
  •   1/2 cup shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. While oven heats, place butter in 9-inch pie pan and place in oven to melt. Swirl pan to grease bottom and sides.

Steam asparagus lightly on stovetop or in microwave. Place in bottom of buttered pie pan.

Mix milk, flour, eggs and salt in blender until smooth, or whisk smooth in bowl. Pour over asparagus. Bake until puffed and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.

Sprinkle cheese on top, cut pancake into wedges and serve immediately.

Vegetable variation: Try other seasonal vegetables, alone or in combination, such as broccoli or thinly sliced leeks. Mushrooms may be lightly sauteed in butter and added. Coarsely shredded summer squash and thinly sliced peppers may be used without cooking before baking (pass the salsa with this combination). Chopped fresh or dried herbs, such as parsley, savory or thyme, are also good additions.

Fruit variation: Peel and thinly slice 1 large apple or pear and place on top of melted butter in pie pan. Return to oven and bake until soft, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons brown sugar and a dash of ground cinnamon. Prepare pancake batter as directed, adding 2 teaspoons sugar,  1/2 teaspoon vanilla and  1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Pour over soft fruit and bake as directed. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

Tester's note: We used asparagus, two sauteed button mushrooms and  1/2 teaspoon dried savory, and topped the pancake with sharp cheddar cheese.

Zucchini Brownies

PG Tested

  • 1 cup flour
  •   3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup baking cocoa
  •   1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  •   1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 to 3 cups zucchini, shredded
  • 1 egg
  •   3/4 cup sugar
  •   3/4 cup brown sugar
  •   1/2 cup plain yogurt
  •   1/2 cup oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  •   1/2 to 1 cup semisweet or mint chocolate chips
  •   1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine flours, cocoa, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Stir in zucchini.

In separate bowl, combine egg, sugar, brown sugar, yogurt, oil and vanilla; beat with fork. Stir into zucchini mixture. Spread evenly into greased 9-by-13-inch pan.

Sprinkle chocolate chips and nuts on top of batter.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Tester's note: Baking in the spirit of "Simply in Season" -- using fresh, local foods -- would dictate that we not use this recipe until the middle of summer, when zucchini is in season locally. But we decided to buy out-of-state zucchini from the grocery store to test this recipe because it was developed by Pittsburgher Julie Swartzentruber, a member of the army of "Simply in Season" recipe testers.

Sausage and Greens Soup

PG Tested

  • 1/2 pound bulk sausage
  • 1 cup onion, green onions or chives (we used green onions)
  • Garlic scapes, or green stalks, minced, to taste (optional -- we did not use)
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup potatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
  • 1 to 3 cups fresh spinach, kale, dandelion, lambs quarters, purslane, burdock, watercress or other tender young greens, chopped (we used kale)
  • Parsley to taste, chopped (optional -- we did not use)
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese for garnish

Brown sausage, onion, or chives and garlic scapes (if desired) in soup pot and drain all but a spoonful of fat. Remove meat from pot.

Add broth, potatoes, salt and pepper to pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are soft (10 to 15 minutes).

Add evaporated milk, greens and parsley and cook until greens are tender (just a minute for spinach, a few extra minutes for greens such as kale or dandelion). Garnish each bowl with parmesan cheese.

Serves 4.

Rebecca Sodergren is an Oakwood freelance writer.


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