Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Birchwood Cafe Cookbook: Good, real, seasonal food inspired by Southern family traditions.

The Birchwood Cafe's strawberry and rhubarb cornmeal
cobbler makes a tasty breakfast or dessert dish. See recipe below.

Founder and owner of the Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis

Written by Tracy Singleton on the occasion of the publication of The Birchwood Cafe Cookbook: Good Real Food, which features recipes from the restaurant's light-hearted, innovative, sustainably minded menu, divided by eight seasons: Spring, Summer, Scorch, Autumn, Dusk, Frost, Winter, and Thaw.

The Birchwood Cafe Cookbook is truly a labor of love—more than 10 years in the making. Chef Marshall Paulsen, writer Beth Dooley, and photographer Mette Nielsen and I have pored through twenty years of Birchwood recipes, selecting those that hold special meaning for us and for our customers. Our goal is to provide recipes that reflect Birchwood Cafe’s philosophy and that can be made easily at home.

My journey into local, sustainable food began in my great-grandmother’s home and it continues through the food you’ll find at the Birchwood Cafe today. Take, for example, Summer’s Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler and our Stone Fruit Quinoa Crisp from Scorch. Both spark my earliest food memories of summers spent with my Nanny in a small town in Georgia, miles away from my parents in Minnesota.

On those long, lazy summer afternoons in Nanny’s kitchen, I learned how food is intrinsic to culture, especially in the South. You wouldn’t even think of visiting a friend without bringing something delicious and homemade to share. My Nanny had entire shelves fully laden with homemade goods: canned tomatoes sun-ripened in her garden, preserved peaches, fig jam, and buttery pound cakes. She made the most divine “divinity candy,” each melt-in-your-mouth morsel topped with a perfect pecan half, each piece neatly arranged in a pie tin and draped with a dish towel over the top. We’d carry these gifts when “calling” on neighbors.

Whenever I taste these homey seasonal desserts from Birchwood’s bakery case, I’m transported right back in time to picking fresh blueberries for cobbler, two in my mouth for every one in the pail, or standing on a stool in front of her large wooden bake table, her strong, capable arms on either side of mine as we rolled the biscuits for our cobbler topping by hand.

Of course, back then we didn’t use words like “organic,” “sustainable,” or even “local food system” to describe the food we’d harvest from the back yard and cook up in that sunny kitchen. It was good, real food and really, all that mattered was the warm, food-is-love feeling I basked in.

Those vivid childhood memories were reawakened in my mid-20s when I landed a job at Lucia’s Restaurant in Minneapolis. Here, food was sourced from farmers and not factories. Real butter, churned at local dairies, came from real cows—the kind that Nanny would let me eat straight from the cut-glass dish. Lucia respected the farmers and their food as well as those who worked and dined in her restaurant. At Lucia’s, I came to know these farmers, producers, cooks, and diners, and I reconnected with the warmth and love of Nanny’s kitchen as I started eating real food again.

Making dishes from scratch and knowing the source of each ingredient, just as my Nanny did, is what we do each day at the Birchwood. Most importantly, Good Real Food connects us to ourselves, to each other, and in turn to our community.



Lovely, fresh cornmeal from Riverbend Farm in Delano, Minnesota, adds a distinctly sweet, corny crunch to the topping. Truth be told, this cobbler is as delicious for breakfast as it is for dessert.

From The Birchwood Cafe Cookbook, page 48.

Serves 6

1/4 cup sugar, or more to taste
1 teaspoon unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch of cloves
1 - 1/2 pounds whole strawberries, hulled and halved (about 6 cups)
2 pounds (about 15 stalks) fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch slices (about 6 cups)

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup buttermilk
Sugar for garnish


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

To make the filling, whisk together the sugar, flour, and cloves in a large bowl, and then stir in the strawberries and the rhubarb. Turn the filling into a deep pie dish or six 2-cup ramekins.

To make the topping, stir together the flour, sugar, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, work in the butter. Slowly work in the buttermilk to make a soft dough. Spoon the topping over the filling and sprinkle it with sugar.

Bake the cobbler until the topping is golden brown and the filling is tender, about 25 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream or at room temperature with fresh whipped cream.



The Birchwood take on this favorite is crunchy and nutritious. Maple syrup adds flavor while keeping the dessert from being overly sweet.

From The Birchwood Cafe Cookbook, page 80.

Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds stone fruit (apricots, plums, nectarines, peaches), pitted and cut into large dice (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup quinoa
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup rice bran oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, mix the fruit with 1/4 cup of the maple syrup. Turn the fruit into a deep 9-inch-square baking dish.

In a separate bowl, stir together the oats, quinoa, cinnamon, vanilla, remaining maple syrup, and oil. Distribute the topping over the fruit. Bake until the top is toasty and golden and the fruit is bubbly, about 25 to 30 minutes.


Tracy Singleton is co-author, with Marshall Paulsen, of The Birchwood Cafe Cookbook: Good Real Food.

"Birchwood is more than a cafe—it is a community. The stories, recipes, and the people who make it all happen are embodied in this beautiful book, bringing the Birchwood experience into our homes and kitchens and onto our tables."
—Michael Ableman, farmer and author of From the Good Earth, On Good Land, and Fields of Plenty

"This gracious and simple cafe has a big presence in our lives—Marshall’s tasty food and Tracy’s social activism have led the way for many healthy and sustainable initiatives and have us all thinking about where our food comes from."
—Dan Buettner, National Geographic Fellow and New York Times bestselling author of Blue Zones Solution

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