Review: Ian Knauer’s ‘The Farm’ Delights with Rustic Recipes

The Farm: Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food. Courtesy: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
The Farm: Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food. Photo credit: Courtesy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Last week I fell in love with a man from Pennsylvania whom I’ve never met. Please don’t tell my husband there’s “a new man in our kitchen.”

His name is Ian Knauer. Knauer’s cookbook The Farm: Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is truly inspiring. Of course I closely identify with Knauer’s younger years on a farm. I acquired my palate and “insider knowledge” just north of Pennsylvania in western New York.

Knauer is the eldest of 24 cousins who share in the care and the enjoyment of their family’s 18th century farm in Knauertown. In the recipes and stories there are many reminders that this is Pennsylvania Dutch Country. “Sweet-and-sour everything, anyone?” Yes, please—it was pretty German in Otto, New York too back in the day.

I too had a grandmother who passed away before her time, leaving behind a loving husband and a season of “put-up” foods. Dang, Knauer had me weeping at his introduction and completely hooked.

I wish I had so many cool cousins—and the good sense to plant a big garden with them—and hire professional photographers Hirsheimer & Hamilton to shoot it!

I enjoyed reading Knauer’s introductions to the different seasons and their recipes so much I parsed them out so they’d last through Sunday, and then I sat down with his book to write this love letter, er, review.

You might remember Kauer’s name from his days as a recipe tester, and later a food editor, at Gourmet magazine. In the book’s forward Ruth Reichl shares how a woodchuck pâté that Knauer made and served to the Gourmet staff earned him the advancement to food editor. Yes, he served up a varmit and advanced his career. He also famously rode an elevator with Vogue editor Anna Wintour while carrying a still-warm goat carcass (Knauer was carrying the dead goat, not Wintour, it was never “in fashion”).

In this cookbook Knauer relates how he came to kill that woodchuck and how committed he is to using every part of an animal that he kills. He makes a good case to save—and combine—all animal fats for cooking. He should teach a master class in fat!

He’s also, in good farmer fashion, determined not to waste any of the crops he grows. These recipes are readily adaptable to Long Island produce—and weeds. Check out Knauer’s Purslane Salad and Dandelion Greens Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing. I made his “Magic Peach Cobbler” for dessert twice last week. It’s simple and delish. For the sake of the vegan in our house, I replaced the butter with vegan margarine and the cow’s milk with soy. It still worked beautifully.

While there’s a clear emphasis on quality ingredients in this book, there’s also encouragement to adapt what you have at hand—and to try new things. Knauer is forever experimenting and tweaking, but many of the recipes in this book are ones that he tells us he’s made for family and friends for many years. In fact many of the basic recipes were handed down to him from his grandmothers (and one recipe for a Lebanon Bologna Sandwich from a grandfather).

Regarding this cookbook’s “eye candy:” The props are vintage retro chic (i.e. chipped, cracked, gorge’), but the vegetables pictured are so straight and uniform they look store-bought. I guess I’m just jealous—Knauer’s chapter “The Unstoppable Bounty of the Garden” affirmed my plan to sow a BIGGER garden next year! And his chapter on canning—God bless his little heart—tells me just what to do to save all that bounty for a rainy day. I adore his recipe for Tomato Sauce! I made up a batch and served half of it for dinner, canned the other half and now await opening that jar in the dead of winter…

Thanks, lover.

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