Cookbook Review: From the Farmhouse Kitchen by Dawn Stoltzfus and Carol Falb

Note: I received a digital advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I've never lived on a farm, but Carol and Dawn sure make me wish I did, with stories about pulling potatoes straight from the ground and sun-ripened raspberries that burst in the mouth. There's a certain allure about the idea of going back to a simpler way of living, and that's what drew me to this cookbook. I was also intrigued by the promise on the cover of "authentic ideas from a Mennonite kitchen". Not being familiar with their religion, I was expecting quaint, simple recipes, and I was mostly right.

The recipes in this book are honest, down-to-earth family meals that have been handed down across generations or developed to please a table full of kids. You won't find anything "gourmet" in here, but you will find recipes like Poor Man's Steak, Hobo Dinner, and Sausage Balls. The recipes remind me of dishes that one would see at a church potluck in that they combine ordinary hearty ingredients (ground hamburger meat, potatoes, Italian dressing) in ways that are surprisingly tasty. The cookbook is designed so that you can pretend you have a granny who lives on a farm and has you around every week for supper. Comfort food, in essence. And like true comfort food, don't expect to find weight-loss recipes in here. Most of the recipes call for copious amounts of butter, cheese, bacon, or mayo. Even the dishes that are touted as low-carb are still very high in fat and/or sugar. I'm no health nut, but even I was balking at some of the ingredient lists.

That brings me to the main issue I have with this book. I found the label "farm-to-table" misleading given how many of the recipes rely on processed, store-bought pantry items like cream of mushroom soup, Ranch or Italian dressing, or Velveeta. Despite the fact that the family comes from a farming background and has an abundance of fresh veggies and fruits to use in their recipes, the majority of the recipes don't do a great job of celebrating the purity and simplicity of this bounty. Lots of salads are obscured by too much cheese, bacon, or a heavy mayo-based dressing. I'm sure everything tastes wonderful, but it's not the farm-produce-celebrating cookbook I thought it would be.

Perhaps I am being unfair. Many of these recipes were created for a different time and culture than the one in which I grew up. One in which cholesterol wasn't a, I wish we could go back to those days. If you're living and working on a farm, you need hearty, stick-to-your-ribs meals to keep you powering through such a physically active lifestyle, and when you're feeding a family of 6, you need food that will satiate so many appetites without going broke. From that lens, Dawn and Carol do a great job. There's no fancy food photography here (there's no pictures at all), just recipes that have proven themselves reliable time and time again.

There's also quite a bit of religious talk. Lots of talk of Christ and the Lord, which was too heavy-handed for this agnostic. A Mennonite, however, would probably not bat an eye at any of this. I do admire the joy and satisfaction they get out of service to their church and higher power, even if i can't relate to it myself.

I'd gift/recommend this book to a friend who wants to learn how to make simple, no-fuss, soul-satisfying food. A friend who is looking for a little farmhouse magic to bring to their family. A friend who considers themselves deeply spiritual and hungry.

Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

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