behind the scenes
Season to Taste: On a scouting mission with our recipe editor
It’s early June, but in the home of Edible Michiana recipe editor and food stylist Tara Swartzendruber-Landis, it’s already Thanksgiving.
The kitchen table is filled with apples and squash in preparation for the fall issue of this magazine. With these ingredients, Swartzendruber-Landis plans to re-create holiday favorites including cornbread stuffing, squash soup and stuffed pork loin.
The recipe for stuffed pork loin that she is using as inspiration calls for trimming and butterflying the meat. She tackles these steps as a novice would, figuring out the simplest and most direct way to present the dish to readers, most of whom, like her, do not have formal training in the kitchen. As recipe editor, Swartzendruber-Landis is responsible for adjusting and developing the recipes in each issue of Edible, making them approachable for a wide range of readers.
“You have to think about your audience, your readers,” she says. “You have to think about what they have in their kitchens and how to make recipes accessible. We want to encourage everyone to cook.”
Swartzendruber-Landis, a Goshen native, has carried her love of food with her ever since high school.
“I grew up in a sort of ‘food family.’ My grandmothers are fantastic cooks and bakers, my mom is a fantastic cook and baker—so I was always interested in food,” she says.
After high school, Swartzendruber-Landis traveled on a cultural exchange to Japan, where she was introduced to food in a new way. Since then, she has traveled to Indonesia with Goshen College’s study-abroad program and also lived in Seattle and Philadelphia.
“In Japan, there were all these foods that were native to the place I was living, things that had been there for a long time, things that people had cultivated there, grown there—and it was so different than what I had experienced, growing up here in Goshen,” she says.
One of the most influential experiences of Swartzendruber-Landis’s life was her time spent in the markets and kitchens of rural Indonesia in the late 1990s.
“I look back to those days as very formative,” she says. “Those experiences occurred in a setting foreign to my previous life, yet so familiar to experiences I had growing up, like going to the market, selecting fresh food and preparing it to eat with family. Food is the common ground between everyone.”
For each issue of Edible, Swartzendruber-Landis tests as many as 12 to 15 recipes, and each recipe is tested multiple times. After each test-run she, as well as her family and friends, tastes the recipe. Her two children and husband (Edible Michiana photographer, D. Lucas Landis), along with other Edible staff, are polled, giving feedback on the dish before the next attempt.
“For one issue I think I tested about 10 or 12 roast chicken recipes. My family was so sick of roast chicken by the end,” she laughs.
Recipes come to Swartzendruber-Landis’s kitchen in all forms—some clearly written down with precise measurements, others little more than a scribbled list of ingredients. Often, recipes need to be scaled down from feeding 100 people to feeding a family of four. Swartzendruber-Landis aims to make the recipes understandable to a modern home cook. She also develops many recipes herself.
“I spend a lot of time thinking about the recipe during my everyday activities. I ask myself: What’s interesting about it? What have we not done before?”
Swartzendruber-Landis draws her inspiration widely—from her travels, international cookbooks and even recipes dating back as early as the late 19th century. From time to time, she’ll walk into the Goshen Farmers Market, pick up a food she rarely sees or uses, and attempt to create a dish around it. She is constantly thinking of how she can re-create what she has seen and tasted.
“Things don’t always work,” she admits. “Cooking is like anything else: You’re going to make mistakes. People are too serious about cooking—they need to just go for it!”
Click here to read about 10 cookbooks that have influenced the way Tara gardens, cooks and eats.