With the release of her new 2021 cookbook, Home Cooking Returns: Neighbors Advice and 40 Fun Recipes from the Farm Kitchen for a Midwestern Food Journalist, author Jennifer Rod Clett hopes to better introduce home cooks to Midwestern food and expand the culinary and baking trend of the home.
Clet, who currently resides in rural southern Wisconsin, wrote the cookbook in part to honor her Minnesota roots, including instructions for homemade sugar cookies adapted from her grandmother’s recipe.
Wisconsin author Jennifer Rod Clett released a new cookbook, Home Cooking Comeback, this fall in honor of her Midwest roots. Contribute / Jennifer Rod Klett
“I’ve lived all over southern Wisconsin my whole life, which is interesting because my mother is from Raymond, Minnesota, and so I think that shaped my background a lot,” Clett said. “I’ve always thought Minnesota is my second home. We’ve always spent the holidays in Raymond, Minnesota. (I) really love this state.”
Clet, a former news reporter turned freelance journalist, first started covering food after writing a 2015 story for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about how World War I changed our diet.
“After years of working as a food journalist and seasoned home cook, it’s time to share ideas, tips, and 40 of my personal best recipes,” Clett said. “It includes delicious mains, sides and delicious desserts that I make all the time. Anyone can make these recipes.”
Inspired in part by the growing interest in home cooking during the pandemic, which has closed restaurants across the country and kept people at home, Klett decided to focus on a cookbook highlighting local ingredients in the upper Midwest.
“The pandemic has really been a kick in the pants,” she said. “It’s great for me, because, how did people react to the pandemic? They baked. And so, I’ve been kind of bugging people for years, you know, ‘I cook at home, I cook at home, I cook at home,'” and so I thought this It’s time for a cookbook.”
Klet supports home cooking for many reasons: “It tastes better. It helps you be self-sufficient. It’s better for your health because you can control what you eat better. It’s less expensive. It helps you make this great food culture and create food memories. And I think these things It’s always been there, but I think the pandemic has really brought home the importance of these things.”
And the epidemic, according to Klett’s experience, also pushed people towards the practical side of creation.
“I think that’s another thing that’s happening now in terms of trends, that people are a little tired of looking at things and being passive and having screens in front of them,” she said. “They want to do something with their own hands. They want to make something themselves.”
Clet’s cookbook is written in two parts: Advice for Neighbors on Food and Home Cooking Takes Part One, and 40 recipes modified and refined over decades of experimentation fill the back half.
One of the recipes in Jennifer Rod Klett’s cookbook, “Home Cooking Comeback” is the recipe for Norwegian Meatballs. The cookbook is a tribute to Clet’s roots in the Midwest. Contribute / Jennifer Rod Klett
Chapters in the cookbook cover foods grown, raised, or locally produced in the Midwest, including cheese, blackberries, cranberries, beef, maple syrup, dry beans, butter, wheat, potatoes, and milk. But it’s not just about the ingredients, or the ways to combine them into a serving dish.
“I didn’t just want to throw out recipes to people, but to explain to people the importance of using certain ingredients, and ‘this recipe is good for when you don’t have any time, or if you’re really tired,'” Klett explained. That’s a way of combining some kind of consumer-side purchase of food and then also practical recipes that you can make in your kitchen.”
One of those recipes is dear to Clet’s heart: Her grandmother, who lived in Raymond her whole life, was known for her sugar cookies. These cookies—found within Olga’s Super Sugar cookies—are a route to memories of Klett’s treasures, and also the one that inspired her cookbook.
“Raymond was such a special place for me growing up, and one of the things she taught me was — when my grandmother passed away, I was 12, and Raymond is a very small town,” Clet said. “When that happened, I think every neighbor brought food to my grandfather to help him with it.”
Clet’s grandparents lived in a house built in the early 1900s, and “at the time, the dining room was the center of the house, and it was about the size of the living room.”
“I remember they had a big table in the dining room and it was covered in food,” Clett said. “Everyone came to the front door with their condolences and with a sweetener (or) a hot roast, and I remember the joke at the time was ‘I wish someone would bring ham sandwiches,’ because we were all craving ham sandwiches.”
Nobody brought ham sandwiches, but the memory of this outpouring of community support remains with Clete today.
“I think this was a lesson that home cooking is not just about food,” she said. “It’s about the gesture; it’s about our culture. One of the reasons I wrote this cookbook is because I don’t want to lose that culture.”
Released this fall, “Home Cooking Comeback” Available online at amazon.com ($24.99 paperback or $12.99 ebook), or signed copies can be purchased in any of the themes listed at jrudeklett.com.
“Home Cooking Comeback” is Clett’s first cookbook and second non-fiction book. Her first book, “The Alamo Dupuis: Crawl into the Heart of Kaiser’s Germany During World War I,” about five from Minnesota. The Men Who Served in France During the Great War, Published by Brandon Books in 2014 with a second edition now available online at amazon.com.