The coronavirus pandemic was a stick in the spokes of the ever-moving production cycle of monthly and bimonthly print publications. Beloved local food publication Edible Northeast Florida dropped its “Grow” issue during the same week that businesses were shuttered, pretty much slamming the breaks on the mag’s distribution (a free mag, Edible NEFL is typically available via newsstands located in local  restaurants, coffee shops, and retail establishments.

But the shutdown presented another challenge unique to a publication that focuses almost completely on local food: With restaurants closed, chefs, bartenders, and servers out of work, how could Edible NEFL continue to provide new, distinctive, and tangible content to its dedicated readership?

Last week, the team at Edible NEFL dropped “Provisions” (read or download here), a gorgeous and decidedly useful digital cookbook. Like all things the magazine does, “Provisions” is Northeast Florida-centric, with a contributor list that reads like a Who’s Who of local food–or the most intimidating dinner party guest list ever compiled. Recipe makers include local kitchen icons like Chef Genie McNally (The Floridian), Mariah Salvat (Southern Roots), Chef Calli Marie (Brew Five Points), Chef Forrest Masters (The Sprout Kitchen), Chef Tom Gray (Prati Italia), and more, as well as many influential voices in local food. A heavy-hitting list of contributors, to be sure, but the magic of “Provisions” lies in the simplicity of the recipes gathered for the book. Ten ingredients or less. Using items that would (typically) be on hand in any kitchen.

It’s truly essential reading for residents of the region, as it even features a section on how to stock your kitchen with essential ingredients for your pantry, fridge and freezer.

We reached out to esteemed Edible NEFL editor Lauren Titus (a highly capable cook, herself, as evidenced by the recipe she authored in “Provisions”) and asked her for the secret recipe for making such an exquisite, useful, and Northeast Florida-centric cookbook.

I imagine more folks are cooking at home lately. Was that fact something that inspired the idea to do a cookbook?

We had just started working on our next issue, “Neighborhoods”, when the stay-at-home orders were announced. We put that issue on hold since we were not able to visit eateries or bars for interviews and photography. Everyone was in the same boat of having to cook meals at home, and the situation presented an opportunity for us to look at the resources and information we had on hand that could be helpful to our audience. With over five years of publishing Edible, we’ve accumulated quite a collection of recipes and beautiful photography, so it made sense to create a compilation of our favorite dishes, along with some basics on ingredients to have on hand and when to find seasonal produce.

And what kinds of recipes did you focus on? Did seasonality or locality come into play? 

Several factors led to the recipe selection. Edible focuses on eating locally, and cooking based on the seasons is an important aspect of supporting the local food system. We’ve included a guide to what’s in season throughout the year, with the recipes organized by ingredient categories. Found some beets or kohlrabi at the farmers’ market? Jump to the chapter on cooking either of those ingredients to find multiple recipes. And since the vegetables in each chapter are in season at the same time, you could easily swap ingredients in a dish based on what you picked up at the market.

With dining out such a routine aspect of our daily life (pre-COVID-19), many folks are not that comfortable preparing all their meals at home or have provisions on hand to do so. Stocking the kitchen is a critical first step to successful meals, and to that end we provided information on essential ingredients to have in your pantry, fridge and freezer, which also doubles as a handy shopping list. We wanted to include dishes that would be accessible to kitchen newbies. We also selected recipes that could provide new ideas for more seasoned cooks who have cycled through their repertoire of dishes.

To be clear, there are A LOT of recipes in the book–something for everyone really. And they were contributed by a range of folks from fine dining chefs to well known local foodies. How’d you go about curating your list of contributors?

It was really hard to narrow down the collection! One goal of the cookbook is to showcase the wide range of culinary talent in our region while also being cognizant of the level of kitchen skills for many home cooks. We selected recipes that call for 10 ingredients or less, using mostly common items you would have on hand (your provisions). You can also find some more involved recipes for experienced cooks and aspirational culinary novices.

And there are some nice, clickable features, too. What kinds of things does this digital cookbook allow you to do that you wouldn’t be able to do on paper? 

This was such a fun project to curate because the digital platform allowed us to link to other content related to each recipe. If the recipe contributor is connected to a restaurant or food enterprise, we included a link to learn more about, and support, that business. Each recipe also has a link to a story on our website – more information about sourcing products, growing ingredients, background on cooking techniques, etc. We also include direct links to each of our advertisers’ websites, allowing for purchase of gift cards or online ordering.

Can you give us a few dishes that stood out to you as generally interesting or unique? 

Pumpkin Risotto Cakes with Sage Honey is one of my favorite recipes. It calls for Seminole pumpkin, which is a native Florida pumpkin that grows wild in the Everglades (and is perfectly suited for Northeast Florida gardens). The link from the recipe goes to more information about the pumpkin, including how to grow it.

There are a couple of recipes that use meat in unexpected ways. Chef Rebecca Reed of the Black Sheep Restaurant Group contributed a recipe for Bacon Pralines, the perfect combination of sweet, salty and smoky flavors. And the cocktail Mezcal a la Chorizo from El Jefe provides instructions for a technique called fat-washing, which is a way to infuse spirits with the flavors of another ingredient like spicy chorizo.

Edible’s not only food-focused, but really a community focused publication with pretty strong ties in the local food and beverage industry. Do you have a sense from folks you’ve talked to of what the long term effects of the pandemic might be on our local food scene? 

One positive aspect of the pandemic has been the reinforcement of the idea that supporting local food is important, and that collaboration between small businesses is critical to the community at large. We are seeing area farmers partnering with restaurants and other businesses for pop-up markets when the farmers’ markets closed. Many eateries realized pretty quickly that there is value in diversifying their offerings to their guests, as restaurants pivoted to become bodegas to sell grocery items when access to supermarkets was limited. As national supplies of meat were disrupted, consumers began to seek out local sources of meat, which has been a boon to area poultry, cattle and pig farmers.

The food and beverage industry operates on such thin margins, we will also see some local businesses close, unfortunately. The dine-in scene, and fine dining places in particular, will be impacted for the foreseeable future, especially as diners are slow to return to eating in restaurants. Takeout and online ordering will continue to be offered, however, which makes it all the more critical to finding solutions to single-use plastics and environmentally friendly to-go containers.

And what about Edible Northeast Florida? What’s been the biggest challenge for you all? 

Our Grow issue hit the stands at the exact moment when businesses had to close and limit access to customers, so we had to get creative with distribution for that issue. We partnered with produce delivery companies and restaurants for help distributing the magazine. (We still have copies, in case anyone didn’t get one!) And we had several events planned for the past two months – not being able to interact with our readers in person has been disappointing to say the least.

Since we are a free publication, we are dependent on the support of our advertisers – when their businesses are shuttered, obviously that is a huge challenge to our ability to print. We are looking forward to helping our community supporters reopen and figure out how to operate in the “new normal times.”

Any updates on when we might see a new issue on stands?  

We are working on our next issue, Neighborhoods, which will include a Readers’ Choice poll on favorite restaurants and bars for over 30 different neighborhoods in Northeast Florida. It’s going to be a celebration of what we love about where we live. Watch for that mid-July.

For more cool food-related content, visit Edible NEFL’s website.

Don’t Let Covid-19 Kill Void Magazine

It’s tough out there and WE NEED YOUR HELP to print our next issue.  Click below to ensure Void can continue to cover arts and culture in Northeast Florida.