In honor of local Thanksgiving feasts, we present this excerpt from The Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook, with a recipe for the exquisite roasted pumpkin hand pie from Birchwood Cafe.
Birchwood Cafe owner Tracy Singleton explains it this way: “We're not just in the neighborhood, we're for the neighborhood.”
That neighborhood is the Seward area of Minneapolis, where it’s easy to concur with the cafe’s website description of what you’ll find: “A crossroads of hot food and cool comfort, Birchwood Cafe is one part funky coffee house, one part neighborhood cafe, and two parts eclectic organic kitchen.” The cafe’s motto is “Good Real Food,” and everything on the menu typifies this slogan in the most creative way.
Before opening Birchwood, Tracy waited tables at Lucia’s — owned by Lucia Watson, one of the region’s best-known local-foods advocates. When she opened her own restaurant, Tracy was able to continue to work with many of the same local vendors. For Tracy, the rewards come not only from serving good food, but from supporting small, local farmers who are critical to a healthy food system.
A hefty amount of the produce on Birchwood’s menu comes from Greg Reynolds at Riverbend Farm in Delano. Whether discussing the upcoming crops, paging through seed catalogs, or on a field trip at the farm picking beans and radishes, Tracy and her staff garner a lot of inspiration from this relationship. “Each season Greg asks, ‘What can I grow for you?’” Tracy says. “And my thought is always, how can I best showcase his beautiful food?”
Tracy truly values the personal nature of these relationships. It is the part of her job she loves most. “I really appreciate the opportunity to chat with my farmers and producers. They are the face of our food. Victor Mrotz from Hope Creamery, Pat Ebnet from Wild Acres, and the Hilgendorf family from Whole Grain Milling, we all face similar challenges of running a small business according to our values,” Tracy says. She loves the summer deliveries, these hardworking farmers with their children in tow, happy to be helping out. “I always send them off with a cookie or lemonade or a loaf of rye bread made with the flour specially milled to our bread baker’s specifications,” she says. These relationships are at the core of Birchwood Cafe’s “good real food.”
When Tracy bought out her former business partner in 2004, the internal reorganization that was required gently forced her into thinking about what she was doing and why, and helped to solidify her mission and values. “At heart, the Birchwood Cafe is about connectedness and relationships,” she says. “Basically, we are building community through food. We live in such a fragmented world. Cooking with local seasonal ingredients helps ground and connect us to the earth. This lends a sense of respect for the ingredients we use and an appreciation for the food we eat which connects us to each other and our community.”
Tracy likes being the connection point for her customers and farmers. She says, “When you have that connection with a sense of place, and you know where your food comes from, I think we’re all better for that.”
Roasted Pumpkin Hand Pie
Birchwood uses Riverbend Farm’s Cinderella pumpkin or sunshine squash, as well as cipollini onions, when available. They choose aged goat cheese from Mount Sterling, Wisconsin.
Serves 8 as a main course; 12 to 16 as an appetizer
1 medium sweet pumpkin or butternut squash
3⁄4 lb. aged goat cheese, coarsely grated
2 lbs. cipollini onion, roasted
3⁄4 cup olive oil
3⁄4 cup white wine
4 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons peppercorns
Salt and pepper, for seasoning
Cut pumpkin into wedges. Oil and season; roast in 350°F oven just until cooked through, about 45 minutes. In roasting pan, mix onions with olive oil, white wine, bay leaf, fresh thyme, and peppercorns; cover with foil and roast 15 to 20 minutes in 375°F oven. Mix cheese with onions and pumpkin. Season mixture with salt and pepper. Set aside, prepare dough for crust.
8 oz. cream cheese
1 cup unsalted butter, Hope Creamery preferred
1⁄2 tablespoon salt
2 cups flour
The butter makes all the difference in this pastry, which is why Birchwood always uses Hope Creamery unsalted butter. Beat butter and cream cheese until combined. Add flour and salt and mix until a smooth dough ball is formed. Cut into 6 equal pieces and roll into balls.Using a rolling pin on a floured surface, roll out dough to make about an 8-inch circle. (Make smaller circles if you are making this as an appetizer portion.) Scoop filling onto the middle and fold edges up over the filling. Brush with cream and cook in 375°F oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
This is served at Birchwood with a simple watercress and Granny Smith apple salad, tossed in a light champagne vinaigrette.