When Summer Miller first began the reporting and interviewing for "New Prairie Kitchen" four years ago, the Omaha writer didn't have a publisher. And yet Miller said she found surprisingly little reluctance from chefs, farmers and artisans after describing to them her vision for the book.
It would be more than a cookbook, she told the people she wanted to feature in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. It would show how tight the farm-to-table bond can be when the farms are minutes away from the tables.
Though she didn't know when, or if, the book she was working on would be published, she found all kinds of support for the idea among those she planned to feature, including Lincoln chefs Kevin Shinn of bread&cup and Maggie Pleskac of Maggie's Vegetarian Cafe.
"They were very supportive," Miller said. "They were uplifting. And I really felt like we were all in this together. The goal wasn't to create the book. The goal was to showcase the region, and we were all looking toward that goal together."
Shinn and Pleskac share four recipes apiece in "New Prairie Kitchen" (Agate Midway, $29.95.) None of them are of the casserole variety.
In fact, you won't find an entry for casseroles in the index of "New Prairie Kitchen." Miller, whose work has appeared in Saveur and Every Day with Rachel Ray, set out four years ago to show the wide variety of seasonal recipes people in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota can create with ingredients often from the area. When you read the recipe for Pleskac's golden potato and cabbage tacos with apple-cilantro pico in "New Prairie Kitchen," for instance, you'll also find that the tortillas came from Marlene's Tortilleria in Lincoln, the Yukon gold potatoes from Common Good Farm in Raymond, and so on.
"It's not just a recipe," Miller said. "I guess I wanted to tell people about this place that I love, and that I fell in love with, and why I think it's beautiful and why I don't think you should fly over it."
"New Prairie Kitchen" has drawn attention outside of the Great Plains. It received a glowing review from Taryn Huebner, Oprah Winfrey's private chef, who was sent a preview of the 256-page book. ("This is more than a cookbook -- it's a love letter to the Heartland," she wrote.)
This is the first time Shinn's been featured in a cookbook, and he said he wanted to include not only distinctly Nebraska recipes, but in some cases ones with ingredients that Midwestern people tend to overlook. The featured ingredient in wild mulberry vinaigrette is known by many as a car-stainer, for instance. He promises it's great with spinach and arugula, too.
"Mulberries do, however, have a place on the table," he writes in the book. "They uniquely combine subtle sweetness with the musty grassiness of the wild prairie. A bite of a mulberry takes me back to the smell of the fescue grass meadow on my childhood farm in Oklahoma. I love how food can produce this kind of reminiscence."
On Sunday, Shinn and Miller will team up at bread&cup to talk about the food and drink featured in the book, and the work and trust that went into putting it together. (She interviewed Shinn for the project way back in 2012.)
"I think everybody was just really happy that somebody was interested, deeply truly interested," Miller said. "And the faith that they gave me -- I came out of nowhere. Some people knew me -- in Omaha they knew me. But in other places they didn't. I, of course, gave them information and clips and things like that so they can familiarize themselves with me.
"Still, to say 'Yeah sure, why don't you come over and photograph me and then why don't you interview me three or four different times and then sure let me hand you all my recipes?' They put a lot of faith in me to pull this off. Never once did I take that for granted, you know. I'm really feel pretty honored and privileged that they worked with me and trusted me on this level."