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Cleveland Public Library collects local recipes, local stories in 'Food Talk Cook Book'

You'll find food served with heaping helpings of stories these days. Flip through bacon packages at the supermarket, and at least one brand shows a photo and greetings from a real hog-farm family.
Food retailers are finding out what artists have known all along: Personal stories are a powerful tool, whether you're selling or sharing.

Cleveland Public Library is using that tool in its latest outreach project -- a cookbook that rides a crest of the local-food movement. Almost every recipe in the lively, 92-page,"Food Talk Cook Book,"(CPL, $10), has a tale from the contributor.

Some reveal treasured culinary legacies, such as the paprika techniques Cynthia Holub of Solon learned for Hungarian Fish Soup. (The dried, powdered pepper is not easily blended with water; cook first with oil and onions to make "the Hungarian trinity.")

Others are about the blessings of homegrown foods, even if they include a longing for the blackberries Victoria Palisin once picked for her cobblers -- on land where Westfield SouthPark mall in Strongsville now stands.

And at least one story is about the kind of tasty breakfast -- apple pancakes with cider syrup -- that will get reluctant Katie Abbott of Shaker Heights out of bed on a cold winter morning in Northeast Ohio. "Outside there is sharp ice and bitter snow," she ruminates under the covers, "but inside my head there is a toasty locomotion."

The recipes are local with a capital L, including the roasted Midwest Spuds contributed by Doug Knoop of South Euclid.
"What started as a feast for young drunkards has become a family favorite," he says. "Is there anything more Cleveland than that?" Grab "yer" cookie sheet, he adds.

Before the cookbook, there was a panel discussion about local food held at the library during last year's Year of Local Food in Cleveland. At the helm was food photographer Penny De Los Santos, New York chef and locavore Dan Barber and Cleveland author and "Iron Chef" judge, Michael Ruhlman.

Then the call went out for recipes. The library led the way, LAND Studio in Ohio City coordinated, and Agnes Studio here collected photographs and gave the book's graphics a fresh motif of vibrant, hand-cut food collages. Publication cost $12,000, paid for by Lockwood Thompson Dialogues, an endowment by the late lawyer and library lover.

There was not enough money, however, to test each recipe, or to promote it heavily. A press release went out a few days before Christmas.

"We created it as a storytelling project," said Tiffany Graham of LAND Studio, who contributed her grandmother's Buckeye candy recipe. "We were not pushing the culinary part of it as much as the story piece."

Still, some of the principals have successfully cooked some of the entries, and hope they look playful and inviting enough to all readers. We tested the four that accompany this story, making small changes for clarity and style.

Copies are being sold at the Main Library bookstore, 325 Superior Ave., just in time for Valentine's Day. When those run out, the library will put the book up on its website.
Aaron Mason, the library's assistant director of outreach programs, said the project was done to show the library not just as a home for books, but as a place for usable information and collaboration.

The next Lockwood Thompson Dialogue, he said, will focus on what makes us Clevelanders, details to be announced.
No word yet on whether that topic will come with food. "Food Talk Cook Book" could end up as an appetizer, or a main meal.

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