The cookbook author and blogger shares recipes and lessons learned from working close to the land
Before moving to her 15-acre Minnesota homestead with her family in 2011, Amanda Rettke jokes that she thought food grew at the grocery store.
“I had zero knowledge about raising chickens or feeding your family off of a garden, but we dove right in,” she said.
Diving right in is a habit of Rettke’s. As the owner of the popular blog, “I Am Baker” and author of the bestselling cookbook “Surprise Inside Cakes: Amazing Cakes for Every Occasion—With a Little Something Extra Inside,” much of her success comes from not being afraid to get her feet wet.
Today, Rettke and her husband are the proud owners of a working homestead, complete with 25 chickens, a few bee hives, guinea hens, and a thriving garden. Rettke’s new book, “Homestead Recipes,” sprung out of what makes life on her farm worthwhile: cooking from the land and sharing the fruits of her labor with her family.
Rettke made her debut in the blogging world in 2008 with “I Am Mommy,” a blog about, well, motherhood. She is a mother to five kids, now ages 8 to 17. As her number of children grew, so did her time in the kitchen, because, as she jokes, “My kids seem to think they need to eat every day.”
Rettke began posting more pictures of what she was baking online, which led to her popular website, “I Am Baker.” The website gained popularity and eventually led to her first book deal for “Surprise Inside Cakes.” (The book’s content is exactly what the title suggests: 50 cakes with insides just as much fun as the outsides.)
Since then, Rettke’s following has continued to grow, garnering more than eight million followers on Facebook. On Instagram, Rettke has developed alternative personas, like Aunt Inga, who was based on her family members, and Shirley, who works for the “Your Content Is Horrible Hotline,” as a way of making light of some of her critics. When I interviewed Rettke, I was delighted to discover that she is as funny and real in person as she is online.
“If I’m going to pursue Instagram, I’m going to do it as myself,” said Rettke. “I couldn’t, even if I wanted to, step into an [picture-perfect] Instagram lifestyle.” In a world where the goal is to make the squares on your Instagram sterile and monotonous, Rettke is completely unafraid to be different.
She’s carried that same boldness into her new life on the farm.
Closer to the Land
“My husband grew up on a farm, so he knew what he was doing,” Rettke said of their first year homesteading. “He’s an avid hunter; he loves venison. He’s a person who loves and appreciates the fruit of the land.”
Rettke, her husband, and their five children headed full swing into farm life. “We raised four dozen chickens and had so many predators,” she said. “So we introduced the guinea hens, who are loud and ugly, but sound the alarm for anything dangerous.”
The Rettkes handle every aspect of the farm-to-table process on their farm, from raising to butchering. Their five children are part of the process as well.
“Our kids are learning work ethics and the cycle of an entire life,” said Rettke. “I can see that there is a kind of wisdom in their lives. When you have an understanding of life and death—when you have the full picture—it isn’t as gruesome as we make it out to be.
“We’re passionate about the ethical treatment of animals. I’m not interested in ‘fake meat’ because I know what it does to your body.”
Real Life Recipes
When the pandemic hit, Rettke was home with her family for 14 months. During that time at home, the seeds for “Homestead Recipes” began to sprout.
The recipes, many of which were tested during the lockdown, refueled Rettke’s passion for cooking and food. Its pages are filled with beautiful photos, delicious recipes, and funny stories about life on Rettke’s homestead. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is that it is real.
“I spent so long dreaming about creating a cookbook that everyone would love,” said Rettke. “But gradually, I shifted from that and wanted to write something my family would be proud of.
“I didn’t write this book to please everyone; I wrote it for my family. I wrote it for them, and for me, but I hope it blesses other people.”
The pages ring with family anecdotes, and the recipes are personal. From the cream cheese coffee cake that pays tribute to the restaurant where she had her first waitressing job, to the breakfast pie skillet inspired by an old church cookbook her mom found at a rummage sale, the cookbook reads like a heartwarming memoir of the food and people who have impacted Rettke throughout her life.
There is a whole chapter dedicated to zucchini, the plant Rettke began with when she started gardening. “Zucchini is amazing to cook and bake with. You can use it in chocolate cake or pizza crust,” she explained.
Many of the recipes are quintessentially midwestern, like the candy bar apple salad and meat raffle hot dish. “There’s nostalgia in these recipes,” said Rettke. “It’s a culture.”
The result is a book that has both beauty and soul. By sharing her recipes, Rettke also shares her life, her values, and her heart with her readers.
A Life-Changing Journey
Rettke is the first to admit that though she enjoys homesteading, her family doesn’t fit the self-sufficient, live-completely-off-the-land lifestyle that the word can sometimes evoke. Her cooking combines garden-grown produce and fresh eggs with store-bought staples. If anything, this makes her and her family even more relatable. The Rettkes are adding slowly to their homestead, and learning as they go.
Recently, they added bees, and they have a well, a garden, and ducks. “We’ve talked about adding a pig. Whatever we get, I want to make sure it’s something we can participate in the entire process,” she said.
When asked what advice she would give someone starting on a homestead, Rettke said, “I only wish I would have started earlier. Food is more fulfilling when you have an understanding of where it comes from.”
Anyone can homestead, according to Rettke, whether they are a vegan or a hunter. “It’s about a relationship with the land.” She does refer to her chickens as “the gateway drug,” saying that once she got them, there was no turning back.
Rettke describes homesteading as magical. “It always was, from when we first dove in,” she said. “Heart and soul, this journey has changed my life. If we ever moved again, it would be somewhere with the land.”
Amanda Rettke’s book, “Homestead Recipes,” is available for purchase. To learn more about Rettke, visit her websites IAmBaker.net and IAmHomesteader.com
John Carter has been a content and ‘ghostwriter' for many popular online publications over the years. John is now our chief editor at NewsGrab.