Raised a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan, along the northern stretch of Michigan’s “fruit belt,” Gina Ferwerda spent her childhood either playing on the sugar sand beaches or visiting her grandparents’ farm. It’s no surprise her ongoing passions for the shoreline and local produce have led her down a unique and tasty path.
Focused on tourism and agriculture, Ferwerda has cultivated a growing social presence online as a food blogger, with national television appearances on “The Today Show,” ABC’s “The Chew,” “Good Morning America” and “The Rachael Ray Show.”
Her newly released cookbook, “Meals From the Mitten: Celebrating the Seasons of Michigan,” is a collection of memory-inspired recipes she’s developed over her lifetime, including 25 years of running hotels, resorts and RV parks with her husband Ted. It features 80 signature recipes in a 208-page coffee table-style format, with eye-popping photographs that will impress even the most skilled Instagrammer.
“This is a love story of food and of Michigan and how, for me, the two are intimately connected,” she writes in the introduction. “I hope this book inspires others to compile their family’s recipes, along with special memories to go with them.”
Divided into seven sections, “Meals from the Mitten” focuses on Michigan’s four distinct seasons, with recipes like Spring Morel Risotto with asparagus and peas, Grilled Fruit Salad, Pecan Pumpkin Bars with maple cream cheese frosting and Mitten Mac-N-Cheese.
Other chapters feature Appy-Tails — cocktail appetizers combos such as Moscow Mules with caramel apple cheesecake skewers, tailgating recipes like turkey chili and a selection of mouth-watering burgers and sammies, including the Mighty Mac Olive Burger.
Also sprinkled among the pages are tidbits about the state’s recreational activities, natural resources and historic sites, each of which provides the perfect backdrop for al fresco dining.
“Whether catching your dinner while fishing or boating to your favorite place to eat, Michigan is all about being outdoors,” said Ferwerda, who admits her favorite picnic spots are the Silver Lake Sand Dunes or alongside any lighthouse around the state. “Michigan food is not defined by the kitchen. Our dinner table is wherever you happen to be … on top of a snow-capped mountain while skiing, a picnic blanket overlooking the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, at a winery looking out over beautiful fall colors or at a local craft brewery festival.”
She also gives credit where credit is due — touting the impact Lake Michigan has on the state’s vast agricultural industry.
“Not only is the lake gorgeous, it also is the reason we have the perfect microclimate,” she said. “The ‘lake effect’ slows the first frost in the fall and also keeps us cool in the spring — perfect conditions for our peaches, plums, apples, cherries … and so much more.”
Grilled Cherry Chipotle Pork Tenderloin with Cherry Salsa (Serves 4)
This is an easy one for summer if you don’t have a lot of time. Marinate and throw it on the grill and everything can be done in about a half-hour.
1 whole pork tenderloin (approximately 1 pound) Trim any fat or silver skin from the pork.
½ cup tart Montmorency cherry juice
¼ cup brown sugar
Juice and zest of 2 limes
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons adobo sauce
1 teaspoon salt
In a small bowl, mix all marinade ingredients. Reserve 2 tablespoons of marinade and pour the rest over the pork tenderloin in a resealable bag. Refrigerate the bag for at least 2 hours or up to 12.
6 vine-ripened tomatoes, cored (or 28 ounces canned tomatoes)
½ small onion, peeled (¼ cup)
1 small jalapeno, trimmed and seeded
2 cloves garlic
¼ cup fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon smokehouse seasoning
1 cup sweet cherries, pitted and divided use
Add all cherry salsa ingredients, except for ½ cup of the sweet cherries, to a food processor. Roughly chop the reserved cherries and set aside. Process the salsa ingredients for 20 to 30 seconds. Pour the salsa into a small bowl, and then mix in the remaining chopped cherries. Cover and refrigerate until assembly.
Place pork on a cutting board and cut into desired slices. Sprinkle cut slices with smokehouse seasoning. Drizzle ½ cup cherry salsa over pork and garnish with fresh cilantro.
Note: 1 cup sweet cherries = approximately 20 cherries. Salsa makes approximately 3 cups. Oven roasting instead of grilling: Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add marinated pork tenderloin. Cook for 1 minute each side, or until browned, then transfer to oven at 400 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes.