Vegetables have always been an important part of Louisiana’s culinary scene, chef John D. Folse said.
Everything you ever wanted to know about vegetables in the state can be found in “Can You Dig It: Louisiana’s Authoritative Collection of Vegetable Cookery,” the latest — and biggest — cookbook by Folse and coauthor Michaela D. York.
Part of the celebrity chef’s “big book” series, “Can You Dig It” is 943 pages, some 100 pages more than his previous book, weighs a whopping 14 pounds and retails for $59.95. There are 10,000 books in the first edition.
“We’re a culture of gardeners,” Folse said. “Everybody grew gardens and everybody shared vegetables. … Not everyone has game or seafood (a reference to subjects in his earlier “big book” series), but everyone has access to vegetables.”
While its emphasis is on vegetables grown in Louisiana’s home gardens, the book doesn’t neglect the cultivation of vegetables in the rest of the world. It opens with a history of vegetables, beginning with those mentioned in the Bible and those grown in antiquity and medieval times
Folse’s book also examines the evolution of gardens in Europe and in the Americas, and offers a list of botanical gardens and notable farmers markets worth visiting today.
The people who’ve settled in Louisiana, from Native Americans, French, Spanish, African-Americans, Cajuns, Germans and Italians to Croatians and Vietnamese, have added flavor to the state’s culinary pot, Folse said.
“Twenty years ago the book would have been smaller. Today, everything (grown worldwide) is available,” he said, and the cookbook reflects that.
Folse described the book, which is filled with color photographs and illustrations, as “a time capsule for Louisiana’s cuisine and culture … Our books are more about presenting Louisiana’s culture and cuisine for generations yet to come. That’s our goal and our mission.”
Folse estimated Chef John Folse & Co. Publishing has more than $500,000 invested in “Can You Dig It,” which took 5½ years from conception to completion.
He and his co-author divide duties for the books, with York doing most of the writing and Folse handling recipe selection and food styling.
“Can You Dig It” has about 650 vegetable-related recipes, and each one had to be tested and retested, he said.
“Thirty to 40 percent of the recipes were created for the book and the rest came from our culture, families who shared their recipes,” Folse said.
The recipes were tested for use by the home cook and aren’t overly complicated, Folse emphasized. “I’m hoping the home cook will be creative with my recipes, be willing to change them.”
Folse noted that “every book I’ve ever done is still on the active shelves selling at the same price we introduced them in.”
For later editions, “we make corrections to recipes for mistakes and updates based on eating habits of today,” said the chef.
Fans arriving early for the book’s launch on Dec. 2 at Barnes & Noble Citiplace found Folse in the driver’s seat of his John Deere tractor, which was set up outside the front door of the book store.
“It came off the assembly line in Molina, Illinois, in July 1946, the same month I was born,” he said.
Book fans also sampled 12 dishes made from recipes in the cookbook, including Marinated Zucchini, Summer Squash and Crawfish Salad; Roast Cushaw Soup; Bay Leaf Custard with Mixed Berries; and Eggplant Casserole.
A surprising favorite for many was Avocado and Pistachio Ice Cream, with guests returning for two and three servings of the creamy treat.