COLUMBIA — Squash, peas, lettuce, beans, tomatoes, herbs, berries, fruit trees, toads, frogs and skinks — all call Bernadette Dryden’s backyard home.
“It's just a small garden,” she said with a laugh. “I can’t sustain myself on it, of course. But it helps.”
Chanterelle and Polenta Foil Packs
2 cups chanterelle mushrooms
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 polenta log
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
Clean chanterelles and tear into bite-sized pieces, leaving the very small ones whole. Sauté in butter with salt and pepper to taste for 4-5 minutes or until liquid has evaporated. Cut four 12- by 12-inch squares of aluminum foil. Spread olive oil lightly on each piece. Place a slice or two of polenta on the foil pieces and top with chanterelles and a rosemary sprig. Fold up foil and bake over hot coals for about 10 minutes or a bit longer if your prefer the polenta edges crunchy.
8 cups rolled oats
2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
2 cups raw sunflower seeds
1 cup sesame seeds
1 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup honey
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon almond extract
Juice and zest (chopped) of 4 oranges
2 cups chopped dried fruit
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large mixing bowl, toss together the oats, nuts, seeds, coconut and salt. Over low heat, warm the honey and oil in a medium saucepan, stirring until well combined. Remove from heat and stir in almond extract and orange juice. Pour over the dry ingredients and stir well with a wooden spoon. Work the mixture with your hands, if needed, until everything is damp. Spread mixture no deeper than 1/2 inch on large, rimmed baking sheets. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring several times until crispy and golden. When the granola has cooled, stir in the zest and dried fruit. Store the granola in jars.
Bernadette’s Catch-all Muffins
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/3 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup oil
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup boiling water
3 cups wheat bran
1 cup golden raisins (or part dried cranberries, dates or figs)
1 cup pecans or hickory nuts (toasted lightly, preferably)
Blend together first four ingredients (sugar through salt) in one bowl and next three ingredients (oil through buttermilk) in another. Then, gently mix all seven together. Meanwhile, pour water over bran and fruit in a separate bowl. Let the mixture stand a few minutes, then stir and gently combine with the batter. Stir in the nuts. Pour the mixture into medium-sized muffin tins lined with paper cups. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the muffin’s center comes out clean. Turn muffins onto a rack to cool.
Dryden regularly cooks from her garden, even using the bark and twigs of trees to smoke fish. The connection to Missouri's native flora and fauna has helped her enjoy the state's bounty in her home, a mission she encourages others to share in her cookbook, "Cooking Wild in Missouri."
Dryden, who calls herself a lifelong cook and food enthusiast, is also a retired editor from the Missouri Department of Conservation. She was approached in 2003 to write a cookbook for the department featuring Missouri ingredients.
“I resisted for many years doing it because I was a book editor, and I knew how much work a book was,” Dryden said. “But finally I caved in.”
“Cooking Wild in Missouri,” published July 1 by the conservation department, features native Missouri plants and animals such as venison, rabbit, squirrel, game birds, fish, nuts, fruits and mushrooms.
Dryden said that beyond supporting the use of local resources, she hopes "the cookbook will awaken some Missourians' interest in the many types of food available throughout the state.”
She found the mission of the conservation department and her own philosophy about food compatible and incorporated both while writing the book.
“The department is all about using and enjoying the state’s resources and managing the fisheries, forestry and wildlife of the state," Dryden said. "They encourage people to hunt, fish and forage, and make use of those resources. What I tried to do is bring together in this book that encouragement and the reasons to use other local, seasonal and sustainable foods.”
Dryden's long list of reasons to support local agriculture begins with taste.
“A tomato that’s just been picked, or any fresh vegetable that’s just been picked, is tastier the fresher it is,” Dryden said. “If you’ve ever eaten a tomato in the middle of December shipped from California or Florida and you eat one in the middle of August that’s grown in your garden, you know the difference.”
Buying foods from the area has other benefits, she said, such as supporting the local economy, keeping farmlands intact, maintaining food security and promoting ecological health.
And, she said, there's a more personal benefit for eating local.
“The more we are connected to the source of our food and the more we understand how things are grown, it gives us a greater respect for the whole process,” Dryden said. “Once you live through the cycles of growing food or going to farmers markets or going out and foraging for food, it connects you in a way to nature that going to the store and buying food shipped from thousands of miles away and in plastic packages doesn’t.”
Dryden also emphasizes the importance of having one’s own garden.
“It makes you respect food more,” she said. “By respecting it more, I think it gives you a healthier relationship with food.”
Dryden describes the development of the book as a serendipitous process.
“A lot of it had to do with drawing on my experience of things that I had already cooked and used other meats or fish or fruit and nuts for,” Dryden said. “A lot of these recipes are just adaptations of those recipes or those things that I have made in the past. I gave them a different twist with local products.”
In addition to writing and testing the recipes of the book, Dryden photographed the dishes. Color photographs accompany almost every recipe in the 198-page book.
Besides recipes, the book also includes Dryden’s tips on stocking a kitchen and starting a backyard herb garden.
Now that the book is published, Dryden will continue her work as a founding member and co-leader of Slow Food Katy Trail, a Columbia-area chapter of Slow Food USA. Slow Food promotes the use of local and sustainable food as well as educating the public on doing so.
And, with the summer harvest upon us, Dryden also will spend plenty of time in her garden and her kitchen.
"I have to cook, I love to cook, and I do that every day," she said.
“Cooking Wild in Missouri” is available at the MDC Nature Shop or on the shop's website.