Home(stead) Cooking


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I’m neither a homesteader nor a polar explorer, but I am a fan of Will Steger.

Most folks know of Will as the Minnesotan who explored the poles by dog sled.

I, too, am captivated by stories of his polar expeditions as well as his skills as a designer and a builder who tries to be an example of living well while living green.

Several years ago, I visited the Steger Center outside Ely as a food writer, wanting to learn about Will’s no-waste, climate-friendly kitchen and to see how this fierce advocate lives.

On that visit in August, after a swim in Picklett’s Lake, I hiked to the lodge where the center cook, Rita Mae Steger, served a

brilliant vegetable curry, garden green salad and warm raspberry pie to the resident tradespeople and apprentices.

Throughout the summer, the Steger Center offers classes in homesteading, climate leadership and wilderness management.

“Our programs in building alternative energy systems and climate friendly structures show how gardening, foraging and cooking are critical skills,” Will says.  

Rita Mae Steger is Will’s niece and an energetic, creative and thrifty cook. She harvests vegetables, berries and apples from the garden. She also shops Ely’s farmers market and nearby farms. Inspired by her Vietnamese mom’s cooking and her travels throughout Asia, her fresh, simple dishes are boldly seasoned and beautiful. They come thoughtfully garnished and served with joy.

“I’ve been coming to Will’s homestead for as long as I can remember. First with my dad as a toddler and then every summer. It’s my second home. As the center’s cook, I’ve come to realize how the intention I put into making the food will impact how it tastes and also how it’s received.” All of that is important to Rita Mae, who adds, “I care deeply about the people who come here.”

“Dining together, sitting at the table long after the dishes are cleared, weaves us into a relationship with each other and the earth,” Will adds. “We need to learn to live with what we have. Yes, recycling is important, but if we stopped buying so much stuff, we wouldn’t be throwing so much out, especially when it comes to food.”

All those lessons are wrapped into The Steger Homestead Cookbook: Simple Recipes for an Abundant Life. It shares all tips and stories from the center’s kitchen and homestead gardens. Along with Rita Mae’s

Continue to read this article in Lake Superior Magazine.

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