Saturday, June 22, 2024

Weekend Cooking/Cook The Books: Family Tree by Susan Wiggs

This book is the current selection for Cook the Books, and the first I have read from Susan Wiggs which is kind of surprising given how long she has been writing for, and that she writes the kind of books I love.

Annie Rush has basically brought her dreams to fruition. Even as a young girl she used to pretend to make cooking shows, sharing the recipes that she learnt from her grandmother. As an adult, she now produces a very successful TV show called The Key Ingredient which features her charismatic and handsome husband. And now, she has just received some news that she can't wait to share with him.

Fast forward a year later  and Annie is back in her home town of Switchback, Vermont and she has to literally learn to how to live again. She needs to rely on her mother, father and brother for the most basic of activities, which brings its own challenges given that her mother and father have been divorced for years, and they don't get on at all. Whilst her father moved onto a new life, her mother stayed on the family farm where they produce maple syrup, and it is back on the farm where Annie begins to rebuild her life, one action, one memory and one dream at a time.

While Annie is still in hospital she is visited by Fletcher, her first love, the man who she left behind while she chased her food dreams. When Fletcher first moved to town as a teenager, her mother warned her off, but Annie and Fletcher gravitated towards each other time and time again, until life made them have to choose which paths to take and those paths lead away from each other. But Fletcher's path lead him in unexpected directions and he has ended up living a life that would have been hard for anyone to believe. 

The story is kind of fluid. We hear Annie's story as she recovers, as she recalls each new memory from the past and has to deal with her reaction to that memory. We also follow her to various times in her past as she recalls her relationship with Fletcher, about how she met her husband and more.

As Annie recovers, she gets the opportunity to build a new dream. The question is will that dream once again take Annie away from Switchback and away from Fletcher.

This was a very easy to read book and it is very food forward, and there were a lot of delicious sounding foods. I loved how passionate Annie was from a very young age, and this passion was very clear as we heard the story of how The Key Ingredient came to be the show it was. One of the questions for Annie is what does the future look like. Can she still live her food dreams or was her life changed irrevocably in the accident?

Assuming that more of Wiggs book that foodie focus, I will certainly read more from her!

When it came to deciding what to make for the cooking part of Cook the Books, I really wanted to to find a maple flavoured recipe. I mean, this book is set on a maple farm so it seems obvious. I did search through a few sites for maple syrup recipes, but it turns out that I am returning to a recipe that I first made a few years ago which came from the Queen website. The key maple syrup element is in the maple butter. This is a really simple way to inject maple syrup into a recipe and could potentially be used in a number of ways. For example, you could use whipped maple butter on pancakes, on other loaf style cakes like banana bread, on top of roasted pumpkin. So many uses! The last one might seem a bit odd but I did see a lot of roasted pumpkin and maple syrup recipes so the flavour combination should work! Although I probably wouldn't add the vanilla if I was going to use it on pumpkin!

Maple Butter Date Loaf


300g pitted dates, chopped
1 ½ cups (375ml) water
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
130g butter, room temperature
2/3 cup (150g) firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 large eggs
2 cups (300g) self-rising flour

Maple butter

60g unsalted butter, room temperature

2 tbsp maple syrup
½ tsp vanilla bean paste

Preheat oven to 170C (fan forced). Grease and line a 23cm x 13cm loaf tin with baking paper.

Combine dates and water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Take saucepan off the heat, add bicarbonate soda, and let sit for 15-20 minutes or until dates are tender.

In the bowl of a stand mixer. beat butter, sugar and vanilla until light and creamy. Add eggs, one at a time beating well after each addition. Turn the mixer down to low and add a third of the flour, followed by a third of the date mixture. Repeat using remaining flour and date mixture 1/3 at a time until fully incorporated.

Pour mixture into prepared loaf tin and bake for 55-60 minutes or until inserted skewer comes out clean. Let cool in tin for 10 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack.

For the maple butter, while loaf is cooling in tin, using a stand mixer or hand beaters, beat butter for 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Add maple syrup and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes. Serve the loaf warm with a smear of the whipped maple butter, or more accurately in our house, a generous slathering of the maple butter.

I am sharing this post with my fellow Cook the Books participants and with Foodier Read hosted at Based on a True Story

Weekly meals

Saturday - Away
Sunday - Away
Monday -Pork chops mash, beans and gravy
Tuesday -Chicken and vegetable stir fry
Wednesday - Tomato and Rice Soup
Thursday - Pork nachos
Friday - Fancy dinner

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page


  1. I have downloaded the novel and am anxious to start it. Just finishing up another. Thanks for the review.

  2. I can't wait to make your Maple Butter Date Loaf!