Though it’s adjacent to the urban sprawl of D.C., Montgomery County boasts a verdant patchwork of thriving farming enterprises. Currently, there are more than 800 farms and horticultural ventures – from growers and gardeners, to ranchers and shepherds, to beekeepers and brewers.
What is happening today can be traced back to the region’s colonial roots. When the county was founded in 1776, the county’s farmers first made their living growing tobacco, though many of them transitioned to wheat and corn by the 19th century. Until World War II, the majority of the land in the region was under cultivation. Though there was a precipitous decline in farming in the second half of the 20th century, it never died out. In 1980, county’s agricultural reserve was officially founded, intentionally setting aside land for farming. Today a third of MoCo is a part of the 93,000-acre reserve.
Now, authors Claudia Kousoulas, a D.C. resident, and Ellen Letourneau, who lives in Montgomery County, are highlighting the bounty in our backyard with a stunning cookbook, Bread & Beauty: A Year in Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve. Enriched by the stunning photography of George Kousoulas and Martin Radigan, the self-published hardcover features 130 recipes, a healthy dose of history and profiles of a number of local producers.
“We wanted to show the diversity of people out there, the diversity of products of they create, and the diversity in the way they approach farming,” says Claudia.
Divided into seasons, the book emphasizes using the freshest finds at the farmers market.
“We also tried to highlight things people might not usually cook,” says Claudia, who made an effort to include kohlrabi, mutton, and rutabaga.
Though there are plenty of recipes for carnivores, plant-forward options abound, such as butternut squash and sweet potato curry, carrot top pesto, fresh cheese and lavender tart, and corn chowder. There are plenty of sweet treats, including applesauce cupcakes with molasses cloud frosting, front porch cake with rhubarb curd, herbed fruit popsicles and apple rosemary crostata.
The duo developed most of the recipes themselves. Sometimes ingredients they discovered through the process of writing the book surprised them. Neither had cooked with lavender before and Letourneau says trying horned melon – which can taste like a cross between cucumber and a banana – was a “revelation.” Friends and families helped with the recipe testing, and they hosted tasting parties to get further feedback.
The book is available online and at some of the featured producers, including Waredaca Brewing Company, Rocklands Farm and Soleado Lavendar Farm. Proceeds from the book will be donated to Montgomery Countryside Alliance and Manna Food Center.
Get a sneak peek of two recipes from the cookbook below