I’ve always felt the best cookbooks are the ones you open with the intention of a quick browse but find yourself reading cover to cover and coming out the other end feeling like you’ve attended an inspiring dinner party hosted by the author—without leaving the comfort of your armchair. Michele Genest’s The Boreal Gourmet: Adventures in Northern Cooking (Harbour) is just this sort of cookbook.
The narrative that accompanies the inventive recipes oscillates from bush survival advice to personal memoir to historical anecdote (Klondike hopefuls brought sourdough starter buried in a sack of flour with them over the Chilkoot Pass) and is simply a lovely read. The recipes themselves range from the more gourmet—Arctic Char Poached in White Wine, Gin and Juniper Berries—to the less gourmet—Moose Lake Lasagna in a Pot (complete with tips on how to cook it in the backwoods)—and are complemented by Laurel Parry’s endearing hand-drawn illustrations.
Genest grew up in Toronto feasting on the rich, classically French fare prepared by her mother, a chef. In The Boreal Chef, she blends this culinarily enlightened upbringing with indigenous northern Canadian ingredients. Her relationship with the North evolved over time; after her first hunting trip, which ended in tears, she developed a love for the harsh landscape and the bounty harvested from it that is so strong you can almost taste it.
Someday I will actually make one of her recipes and impress everyone I know. I must remember next spring to pick wild roses so I can make Rosehip and Crabapple Ketchup, or use the petals for Rose Petal Sugar. In the meantime, if I happen to meet a misbehaving moose in the back alley, Moose Moussaka may end up on the menu.
Realistically, though, I am quite satisfied with the comfort of my armchair and the simplicity of the Raisin Scones. I am, after all, one of the softies living in what Genest calls “Southern Canada.”