Stacy Lyn Harris has made her name with cooking that focuses on living off the land, incorporating foraging, gardening and wild game for the bulk of what she feeds her family of nine and preaches about in books, magazines, websites and on television.
Her third book, Stacy Lyn’s Harvest Cookbook, came out March 31. And while she’s made her name as the kind of gal who can head outdoors and bring back dinner, Harris is quick to point out that any of the recipes in the book can certainly be made with items from your local grocer – she just likes doing things the hard way.
Which has not always been the case. Harris was a town girl, an only child growing up in Montgomery, AL where she learned to cook at her grandmother’s side. But when she was in college studying to be a lawyer, she met husband Scott, a dental student and avid hunter and fisherman. Stacy got a peek at a different way of life.
“That first year of marriage where I’m trying to please my husband, all we have in the freezer is wild game, that’s all there is. I didn’t really just love it, I didn’t want to eat it, but I thought ‘Well, if I’m going to cook, I’m going to need to make what’s in that freezer because there’s no room to bring home anything from the grocery store.”
Harris soon realized the upside to cooking with game – no GMOs, no steroids, no antibiotics – which led to the next natural steps, an heirloom garden and foraging with the family for mushrooms, berries and whatever else grows in the wild.
She never looked back. As the first kid came along, her dedication intensified. Now there are seven Harris children (the oldest is following in Dad’s steps in dental school, the youngest is in second grade) so Stacy has adapted to not just live off the land but to also feed a small family at every meal.
“So all of this came from my husband’s obsession with bringing home wild foods,” Harris laughs. “I fell in love with cooking fresh, pure meals from local ingredients.”
Beautiful Plates Make Tasteful Plates
Cabbage is a current favorite, as are purple-hulled peas, which she’s thrilled to see on the rise. She believes tomatillos could be the next big thing. But when it comes to Southern cooking, she says “the trends are not a particular food, it’s more of a fresh, bright plate – a fresh, Southern bright-colored plate, you don’t have brown. In the past 50 years the color of Southern cooking was brown, the meat-and-three.
“But you’re seeing chefs change the way they cook now back to the way things were 70 years ago, the trend is to cook bright food and serve it with a lighter entrée. That’s what the South is becoming, the ‘new old South’ kind of feel and I think it’s the same everywhere – the idea is to keep produce in its natural state as much as possible to really get those flavors through and not hide or mask them in any way. Beautiful plates make tasteful plates.”
You can read about Stacy’s adventures, along with recipes and videos that show the ropes, on her websites, Game and Garden, and stacylynharris.com and in an earlier version of this story in Southeast Produce Weekly. You can also tune in and see her work on television’s The Sporting Chef and also doing videos for The Homesteaders of America and RFD-TV’s Rural Heritage.
A lot of very impressive people are saying some very nice things about Stacy with her new book on the way.
Carla Hall, co-host of ABC’s The Chew, says, “Stacy Lyn took me back to Sunday Suppers at my Granny’s when I was growing up. She’s the real deal!”
“Stacy Lyn… gives traditional Southern recipes a fresh, modern take with lighter ingredients. My soul is singing with happiness,” says P. Allen Smith, host of PBS’ Garden to Table.
Dana Popoff, producer of Alton Brown’s famous Food Network series Good Eats, says Harris’ new book “is an exquisite collection of tasty recipes, tips and ‘how to’s’ that will inspire you to play in the dirt, seek out nature, and get into the kitchen.”
Harris takes it all in stride.
“You live in this little bubble, I still feel isolated, I live my life here with my family and do what we do -- I grew up an only child so it’s way different for me to have this many people in a house. My house is never clean all at once, but that’s okay,” Harris says. “But I have this whole other life, it’s my online community and the public.”
In addition to everything else on her plate, Harris made the decision after her oldest went to kindergarten to home-school her children. To more effectively manage her time, she does all her cooking on the weekends and enlists the family’s help.
“If you teach kids to work they learn how to contribute to society and gain confidence,” Harris says. “If they don’t contribute early then they don’t know how when they get grown – they’ve got to have confidence and be givers or they’re going to grow into selfish adults. When you are spending time with them and accomplishing your life goals at the same time it’s a win-win situation and it prepares them to reach their own life goals. Just because you’re working doesn’t mean you have to be ignoring your children. They need to join in your life -- cook together, garden together, play together. That’s one of the ways I’ve been able to do it all.”
Learning to Say ‘No’ to Yourself
One thing she’s never been able to do though is “find time for Stacy. I didn’t ever do anything without the kids – I look back now and I think that’s probably the way it was meant to be. Once in a while I’d tell my husband, ‘I’m really about to lose my mind’ and I’d go for a long country drive. When the kids were younger, that was a time of learning to say ‘no’ to myself – I’ve had to say no to a lot of good things to get accomplished what I wanted to get accomplished.”
Stacy’s first and still most important influence was her grandmother. “She thought I was the best at anything and everything. I just wanted to be near her, so I learned every single thing she was doing. It was a feeling of perfect acceptance. She loved to cook and she talked about food all the time, so that’s what we talked about. I would watch her in the kitchen and she’d let me do things and it gave me confidence. It brought so much freedom – freedom comes from being in the kitchen, you can do anything you want to with the food if you just know a couple of secrets.”
When Harris entered college, she countered feelings of “being a little out of control” by focusing on cooking. “You gain control of your life when you’re in control of what you eat, that is an area that you can control, that’s within your realm. In college, almost everything else is out of your control. Same for gardening. It’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t work out, unless you’re a farmer.”
Stacy decided to stay home when the kids started coming along (she still handles most of her own legal and contract matters though). She had no idea her commitment to home and hearth would open doors to a new career.
Harris realizes there are few people who have the opportunity to make her way of life work. That’s why she’s doing it for you.
“People know that fresh is best and they’ll buy local produce first,” Harris says. “But you can get anything in my books, except maybe venison, at your local Wal-Mart.”