With her new book, Toast & Jam: Modern Recipes for Rustic Baked Goods and Sweet and Savory Spreads, New York City-based author and baker Sarah Owens issues a friendly but compelling challenge to the reader: Embrace scratch cooking with its simple techniques and robust flavors to enhance your health and quality of life.
“Scratch cooking is reclaiming what we are all entitled to, taking back not only nutrition but also flavor from the institutional forces that dominate modern food production,” she writes in the book’s introduction.
In early September, Owens brings her spirited food revolution to the Asheville area with three flavorful events. A bread and pastry workshop on Sunday, Sept. 3, pairs her with friend, pastry chef and food historian Susannah Gebhart of West Asheville’s OWL Bakery for an afternoon of tutorials (finishing, happily, with snacks and cocktails) aimed at bakers with a bit of experience. On Thursday, Sept. 7, Owens heads to Marshall to present a family-style dinner with hosts Alex and Connie Matisse at East Fork Pottery. She wraps up her visit on Friday, Sept. 8, with an evening cocktail hour and book-signing back at OWL Bakery.
Toast & Jam comes on the heels of the East Tennessee native’s 2016 James Beard Foundation Award-winning cookbook, Sourdough. In that publication, Owens, a trained ceramicist and horticulturist, coalesced a wealth of knowledge she gained while attempting to master the art of sourdough leavening in order to cope with crippling digestive issues. In her new release, she begins with the basics of sourdough baking then moves into a primer on food preservation — specifically, canning and lacto-fermentation — followed by notes about ingredients both purchased and foraged.
The recipes are divided into two categories. Part One, “Toast,” offers recipes and instructions for crafting more than a dozen sourdough-leavened breads plus crackers, pretzels, muffins, biscuits and scones. Part Two is succinctly titled “Jam,” but sprawls for more than 130 pages with all manner of jams, preserves jellies and marmalade as well as sweet and savory spreads, nut butters, condiments, ferments, pickles and, finally, hearty vegetable combinations for topping tartine.
Fermentation is a process Owens became familiar with as she was learning sourdough baking, and with Toast & Jam, she seized the opportunity to present some basic instructions and gateway recipes. “I wanted to do something really simple that sort of invited people to try it without being too intimidated by it,” she says.
The starter recipes she provides, like kimchi, sauerkraut and fermented pickles, are intended as jumping-off points. Readers, she notes, can easily substitute different ingredients and expand on the recipes as they grow more familiar with the process. “That’s sort of the beautiful thing about fermented foods — as long as you keep the salt and vegetable ration similar, then you can really use just about anything you want to; it’s all about salt content and getting a good brine. … It’s really only limited by your imagination.”
Owens’ background in horticulture and love of foraged botanicals, which she says is “always part of my repertoire, so much so that I probably don’t even think about it now,” peeks through repeatedly in the book. Recipes like violet petal jam and dandelion turmeric jelly bid cooks to venture into their backyards to source ingredients. And a great many of the dishes call for produce that can be commonly found in seasonal home gardens.
Owens says this focus will carry over to both the Sept. 3 workshop at OWL Bakery and the dinner at East Fork Pottery. In advance of the events, she and Gebhart will go on a foraging expedition in the Asheville area in search of ingredients.
During the workshop, Gebhart will teach a section on pastries, while Owens will lead a component on breads. “Susannah often incorporates floral elements into her pastries, whether it be through botanical sugars or syrups or creams, and I often incorporate wild herbs or other foraged things — sometimes mushrooms, if I can identify them solidly,” says Owens. “It will sort of depend on what the bounty of the forest and fields will provide for us.”
Likewise, for the Sept. 7 dinner in Marshall, Owens will be on the lookout during her forays into the forest for elderberries, chanterelles and a variety of herbs that are plentiful this time of year in Western North Carolina. In addition, she plans to bring along some items foraged from the beach near her home on New York’s Rockaway Peninsula, such as sumac and wild bay bush.
The dinner is the first in a series Owens is launching called By Hand, in which she will partner with artisans in variety of locations this fall and winter to “highlight the effort and soul and craft that goes into things that are made by hand and that are enjoyed around a communal table.” Along with the meal and wine pairings, the dinner at East Fork will include a signed copy of Toast & Jam, a tour of the pottery shop and discussions with Owens about scratch cooking, her book and more.
“I’m so excited to be coming to Asheville just to be able to meet people and see people in person,” says Owens. “I’m really hoping people will come to the dinner especially, because I think that’s going to be a special experience. It’ll also be an opportunity for people to taste where these recipes come from and what I’m inspired by.”
The baking workshop happens 1-5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, at OWL Bakery, 295 Haywood Road. Cost is $85. Details and tickets are available here.
By Hand: A Dinner at East Fork Pottery with Sarah Owens is at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7, East Fork Pottery, 310 Ras Grooms Road, Marshall. Cost is $125. Details and tickets are available here.
The cocktail hour and book-signing event is 6-8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8, at OWL Bakery 295 Haywood Road. Wine and snacks inspired by the book will be provided. Cost is $12 without book purchase or free with book purchase. Details are available here.