It’s been nearly 30 years since Jayni and Frank Carey traveled the highways and backroads of Kansas in search of culinary treasures for their book, “The Kansas Cookbook: Recipes from the Heartland.”
“It was a book prompted by a slight. University Press of Kansas used a quip by Charles Kuralt calling Kansas a ‘gastronomic wasteland’ in a press release to spur a response,” Frank recalled. “Good cooks around Kansas took offense to his comment and, to prove him wrong, sent us their family’s favorite recipes. The result was a jackpot!”
The Careys are hoping to hit the jackpot twice with their exciting new version, “The New Kansas Cookbook: Rural Roots, Modern Table.”
When I was producing my television show, “Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert,” I drove to Lawrence to appear on Jayni’s long-running cooking show. I really enjoyed meeting and taping with Jayni, so imagine my pleasure when I read a new cookbook from Jayni and Frank was in the offing.
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I chatted (via email) with the Careys about their work, its genesis, and what readers and home cooks can expect when they crack open “The New Kansas Cookbook.”
The Careys said the new book was nearly 20 years in the making.
“We considered writing a companion book about ten years after the first one came out. We could see the food trends changing in Kansas such as an interest in eating fresh, local and organic, blossoming farmers’ markets, and Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSA’s),” the couple told me.
“Also, talented chefs were opening restaurants with an emphasis on using local producers, the number of Kansas wineries and breweries was growing, and farmers were beginning to become more enterprising in order to sustain the family farm by raising organic beef, chicken, and other meats, opening u-pick operations to sell fruits and vegetables, offering honey, fresh eggs and handmade cheese for sale, and generally inviting the public out to the farm,” they said.
The Careys say the new book forges new trails, concentrating on how Kansans cook today. “The recipes are modern, they focus on fresh ingredients, and most are easy for cooks of all levels to prepare,” Jayni said. “As with the first book, each recipe contains a quote from the contributor or useful information about the preparation. Along with 220 recipes (83 from contributors, 137 of our own), the book contains 31 food-related features that showcase interesting people and places in Kansas today.”
“We wanted the recipes to reflect the way Kansans cook today. We were not looking for ‘Aunty Em’s’ old family recipes this time, but instead, modern recipes that use fresh and local ingredients,” the Careys said.
Jayni and Frank say 81 recipes chosen for the book came from Kansas home cooks, chefs, farmers, ranchers and family and consumer science educators. Another 137 were their creations.
“The process of creating and testing recipes, interviewing people, traveling, and writing the book took over two years. To begin our search for recipes and people to interview, a press release was sent to newspapers as before, and we used the internet, Facebook, and email to find contributors,” the couple shared.
The Careys say much has changed in the way Kansans eat these days versus 30 years ago. Many of those changes reflect the trends we’re seeing nationwide: the farm to table movement, backyard gardens, and local farmers’ markets to name a few. Still, they say Kansas is also unique when it comes to how its residents eat and why.
“It’s a lifestyle in Kansas — a lifestyle based on rural traditions with modern appeal. Though Kansas is a state that is large in area and diverse in character, we have discovered again when it comes to sharing a meal it still has a neighborly feel,” the Careys commented.
The Careys say they want The New Kansas Cookbook to be an inspiration, a chance to see cooking as a joy and an opportunity to gather with family and friends over a locally sourced home-cooked meal. I know it’s inspired me. I can’t wait to dig in and try some of these recipes myself!
If you’re interested, and I hope you are, Jayni shared how you can learn more about The New Kansas Cookbook.
“We will speak and do a book signing at The Kansas City Public Library. The event will include three guest speakers featured in the book,” Jayni said.
The event is 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library, 4801 Main St. Jayni said.
Jayni also invited reades to follow them on Facebook.
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.