That feminist icon Gloria Steinem wrote the foreword to the upcoming Hedgebrook Cookbook: Celebrating Radical Hospitality isn't quite as inexplicable as it may seem. Yes it’s a cookbook, but it’s also sprinkled with bits of original prose and poetry by some notable alums of Hedgebrook—Whidbey Island’s rustic writing retreat for women. Beginning with Steinem, the writers laud Hedgebrook and reflect on the significance of a prepared meal. “The food tells us that someone believes our work is important,” The Jane Austen Book Club author Karen Joy Fowler writes. “This often comes to women as a powerful surprise.”
The book, available online and at local bookstores on September 10, marks Hedgebrook’s 25 years of supplying women writers with the means to spend long, uninterrupted days with their craft. The retreat’s writers-in-residence work alone in their cottages or around the forest, but staff chefs prepare and serve communal meals every night. Socializing between the writers—and chefs, who always eat with them—is a vital part of the Hedgebrook experience, an experience the authors hope readers of the cookbook will replicate in their own lives. Alumni groups already mimic the formula with regional get-togethers: One in Los Angeles splits designated weekends between solitary writing time and group meals prepared by their husbands and partners.
Spread (evenly) between themes of caretaking and female bonding are, of course, the recipes. Hedgebrook’s six chefs contributed instructions for their most frequently requested dishes, with the bulk coming from Julie Rosten and head chef Denise Barr, co-authors of the cookbook. The fare tends toward comfort food with a twist, like tomato coconut soup, cauliflower mac and cheese, and chipotle brownies. Meals are hearty, healthy—all of Hedgebrook’s ingredients come from local farms and their own garden—and served in heaping portions, meant to invoke a familial sense of safety. The recipes do require time and attention to complete; if “sauté” sounds too fancy and you don’t care to own a stockpot, consider skipping this one.
To close her foreword, Steinem—herself a Hedgebrook alum who founded and co-chairs its Creative Advisory Council—writes that Hedgebrook is “a place where we learn to accept the care we’ve been trained to give.” The contributing writers describe that learning process and how it allowed them to better focus on their work. “We [women] have to give ourselves permission to write,” Amy Wheeler, Hedgebrook’s executive director, says. And maybe to let someone else make dinner tonight.