“The Boreal Feast: A Culinary Journey Through the North.” By Michele Genest. Photographs by Cathie Archbould. Lost Moose (Harbour Publishing). $28.95

With its photos of the northern lights, Swedish waterfalls, Arctic highways and brown bears, as well as essays about adventures from Sweden to Siberia, “The Boreal Feast: A Culinary Journey Through the North” falls squarely into the cookbook-as-travelogue category. Canadian writer Michele Genest, who lives in Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory, delves into foods and feasts of the lands of the boreal forest – her own country and Alaska, Russia, Siberia, Scandinavia and parts of Asia.

With great enthusiasm for all things northern, Genest attends a gathering of First Nations elders in Canada, hunts in the mountains of Sweden, celebrates the solstice and gathers for a family reunion, where she dines on (French Canadian) tourtiere.

Truth be told, I don’t entirely understand the point of essays in cookbooks. Unless the writing is spectacular – as good as a favorite novel – I either won’t read the essays in the first place or certainly won’t read them twice. These essays are perfectly fine and, if I’d come across them one by one as columns in the newspaper, I’d have enjoyed them. Do I need them in a book I’ll keep on my shelf? Probably not. But that’s just me.

What I do like about the essays, but especially about the recipes, is that they don’t sound like everything else I am reading in food writing and cookbooks these days (hummus again? ditto with recipes for kale salad or fermented anything).

“The Boreal Feast” contains 16 recipes that require spruce tips, which happens to be 16 more than I’ve ever run across in any other cookbook. Among the dishes I could make if I went out and gathered some are candied spruce tips, spruce tip gremolata and spruce tip mayonnaise.


Genest uses lingonberries with abandon. She cooks up moose, grouse and bison marrow at the drop of a (fleece) hat. She knows her way around rosehips (Penne with Smoked Salmon, Tomato, Rosehips and Solstice), she handily cans Fireweed Jelly from boreal forest flowers she’s gathered, and she pours on the birch syrup (now being made commercially, incidentally, for the first time in Maine) to produce Birch Butter and Birch Syrup Spiced Pecans.

Alas, even living in Maine, specifically Portland, Maine, I am a long way from the boreal forest, and I do not have easy access to most of these ingredients. For testing purposes, I stuck with less exotic recipes.

I baked a fantastically good Honey Cake with Crème Fraîche. I made some tasty Honey-Mead Glazed Carrots (though next time, I’d tinker with the timing), and I prepared Toasted Sunflower Seed Soup. That last was a recipe that practically made me smack my forehead and blurt out “Duh!” Nothing more than chicken stock, roasted garlic, ground sunflower seeds and cream, making a deep toasty-seed flavor. But the best ideas are often the obvious ones that somehow none of us ever thought of before. “The Boreal Kitchen” has lots of those.


Toasted Sunflower Seed Soup

I used less heavy cream than called for when I made the soup, about 2/3 cup. Having just written a story in which I said I didn’t covet a Vitamix, I suspect this soup would be dynamite made in that machine. I used a mouli food mill to puree the soup, and it lacked the silken elegance I’d hoped for.


Makes 8 (1/2 cup) servings

1 head garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 cups, plus 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon crushed chili pepper


11/2 cups chopped onion

4 cups organic chicken stock

1 cup heavy cream

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Slice the top off the head of garlic to expose the flesh, oil the outer skin and drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over the top. Spread the sunflower seeds on a baking sheet and place the garlic at one end. Toast the seeds for 7 to 10 minutes and transfer to a bowl. Return the garlic to the oven and roast for another 30 to 40 minutes, until soft.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil and the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add crushed chili pepper and sauté for 2 minutes. Add onion and sauté until translucent, 5 to 7 minutes

Squeeze roasted garlic from the papery skin right into the pot. Add sunflower seeds, reserving 1 tablespoon. Add stock, bring to a boil over high heat and reduce to medium-low. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Remove the soup from the heat and puree with an immersion blender or in small batches in the food processor or blender until smooth. Press the soup through a sieve.

Transfer the soup to a clean saucepan, add the cream and heat through (but don’t let it boil). Add salt and pepper, to taste. Serve with a sprinkle of sunflower seeds over the top.

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