1399 Cake with a farmer’s daughter
The Farmer’s Daughter Bakes: cakes, pies, crisps, and more for every fruit on the farm
by Kelsey Siemens
Salem, MA: Page Street Publishing, 2020. See here to purchase
$34.50 / 9781645671046
Reviewed by Luanne Armstrong
I have always been a farmer and a farmer’s daughter so this is the perfect cookbook for me. Already its pages are stained by my hands checking recipes. When I was a child, and when I raised my own children on the farm, we ate out of the garden all year long. In the basement of our old farmhouse were shelves and shelves of canned fruit; beside these shelves were boxes of potatoes, apples, onions, and bins of squash.
The freezers held a side of beef, cut and wrapped, a whole pig, cut and trapped, and bags full of chickens to be roasted or stewed. In the middle of June, the first strawberries appeared, always an exciting moment, but then of course, they had to be picked every day. Then the raspberries ripened, and soon, cherries, plums, the early apples, Pears, more apples, potatoes, corn, squash, from June to October was harvest time. Winter was the time to keep animals warm and fed, to put out hay for the cows, grain for the pigs and chickens, and bring in wood for the stove.
I like to read cookbooks; I pick them up in second hand stores and bring them home for the library. But I tend to not use or take back any cookbook that calls for too many exotic ingredients. After all, I live in a small town and although the grocery store selections are much larger than they were in my mother’s day, I still tend to cook with ingredients that are familiar and tested.
Kelsey Siemens’ The Farmer’s Daughter Bakes: Cakes, Pies, Crisps, and More for Every Fruit on the Farm is well organized and thoughtful as it moves through the seasons. The recipes are just exotic enough to be interesting, but don’t demand a trip to an exotic spice store.
The first thing I cooked was a lavender loaf, which was very successful. I love making lemon loaf; it’s easy, sweet, and tart at the same time, and here the lavender infused it with a gentle subtle flavour. Lavender can be overwhelming, so go easy. I also made the lavender with brown sugar and salted butter, which is more like sugar cookies than shortbread. The book recommends using a mortar and pestle to grind the lavender but I have a coffee grinder that isn’t used for coffee and it did the trick.
I live alone now so I only bake if family and friends, and especially grandkids, are coming to visit. I like to bake with the grandkids, so these recipes have be relatively simple and also work as dessert with a little bit of ice cream or whipped cream as a topping.
One adventurous afternoon, we put together The Farmer’s Daughter’s apple crisp cheesecake with a caramel topping. I would never have conceived of combining apple crisp with cheesecake and then caramel on top. It was a big hit. The kids hadn’t eaten cheesecake before so we decided to try more of it in the future. We moved on to the pumpkin cheesecake with the ginger cookie crust. I admittedly do not have my mother’s and grandmothers deft hand with piecrust, so I like to sneak in other ingredients that can be used for a crust. I hadn’t thought of gingersnaps before as piecrust but they paired extremely well with the soft sweet pumpkin flavour.
I do love making all the many varieties of food that can be made with fruit, the crisps, buckles, puddings, and muffins. These are easy and familiar; what I liked in The Farmer’s Daughter Bakes is that it gave me ideas for combining flavours, textures, and spices that I hadn’t tried before, orange chocolate bread with maple cream cheese glaze, or an apricot blueberry buckle with sugar, cinnamon, and toasted pecans. That might be next on my list.
It’s early spring when I write this so I am a bit short of ingredients from the garden. What I’d like to do this season is perhaps work my way through the book in order, perhaps begin with the rhubarb raspberry crisp and work my through the poached pears in gingerbread cake, through the three varieties of pumpkin loaf, and on to the elderberry cordial. It could be a bit of adventure with the grandkids.
I love to bake and I find it a relief to turn from the stresses of editing and writing, into the less stress-filled world of the kitchen. Sometimes I get a bit too experimental and things don’t quite work out the way they should. Like many cooks, I tend to tweak recipes to go with whatever I have on hand, but the recipes in The Farmer’s Daughter Bakes are each highly adaptable, and I could try different combinations of familiar fruits and flavours according to what the orchard and garden is producing. In the meantime, this book will stay on my cookbook shelf, so if company comes calling, I will be ready with some kind of interesting and varied dessert to bake.
Luanne Armstrong has written 21 books including young adult, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. She has contributed to many anthologies and edited Slice Me Some Truth (Wolsak and Wynn, 2011), an anthology of Canadian non-fiction. She has been nominated or won many awards, including the Moonbeam Award the Chocolate Lily Award, the Hubert Evans nonfiction Book award; the Red Cedar Award, Surrey Schools Book of the Year Award, the Sheila Egoff Book Prize, and the Silver Birch Prize. Luanne lives on her hundred year-old family farm on Kootenay Lake. She mentors emerging writers all over the world on a long-term basis, and in the last three years has edited eight books through to publication. Her most recent books are Sand (Ronsdale Press, 2016), and A Bright and Steady Flame: The Story of an Enduring Friendship (Caitlin Press, 2018; reviewed by Lee Reid). Armstrong has recently published a book of essays, Going to Ground (Caitlin Press, 2021), as well as a new book of poetry, When We Are Broken (Maa Press, 2020). Editor’s note: Luanne Armstrong has recently reviewed books by Harold Rhenisch, Suzanne Simard, Peter Wohlleben, Wayne Sawchuk, and Katie Mitzel.
The British Columbia Review
Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for in-depth coverage of BC books and writers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.
“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster