The ladies of the Graber family never intended to publish a cookbook for the public. They certainly never expected to end up on a book tour in New York doing 13 interviews with 13 television stations. But visit Amazon.com and type in “The Daily Feast” and there it is — a richly colorful 252-page book highlighting a lifetime of gathering to enjoy food and family.
The Graber family — Esther, the matriarch, her five daughters and one daughter-in-law — are creators of “The Daily Feast Everyday Meals we Love to Share,” which was published in April by Good Books, the company that publishes the popular “Fix-It and Forget-It” cookbooks.
The family members involved are Ellen Rose Graber, southern Indiana; Jane Graber Davis, Nashville, Ind.; Ellen Graber Kraybill, Elkhart; Sibyl Graber Gerig, Goshen; her twin, Ann Graber Miller, Goshen; Susan Graber Hunsberger, New Zealand; and daughter-in-law Yvonne Schussler Graber, married to Steven Graber and living in Scottsdale, Ariz. All are Goshen College graduates, including except for Yvonne.
Esther authored the book and her daughters and daughter-in-law worked with her to cook all the recipes in the book to be photographed.
Food has always been a way to celebrate and draw together as a family, according to the three local Graber sisters, Sibyl, Ann and Ellen. Growing up, the evening meal was an important ritual.
“Dad was a busy surgeon in Puerto Rico,” Sibyl said. “That time around the table was sacred. A time of catching up on the day.”
As the girls and their brother grew up and moved away, food remained a central focus to their family gatherings and trading recipes became a big part of that, too.
“We often eat together,” Ann said. “We like to try things out on each other.”
About 15 years ago, Esther, now 81, took all the favorite family recipes and put them in plastic, three-ring binders for each of her children. Each year, more recipes were added. When those first binders began to bulge at the seams, a second one was started.
“They were very well-used,” Sibyl said. “We even shared them with friends. But they became so unorganized. We even tried color coding.”
Ellen suggested her mom, the sisters and Yvonne get together and make a cookbook just for themselves — the original idea was to use a self-publishing Web site.
Then Ann’s husband, Keith Graber Miller, chimed in.
“Keith said ‘Sure, great, but let’s run what you have by a publisher and see if they like it,’” Ann said.
To the surprise of the family, Good Books sent a positive response: They wanted to publish the book.
And so began the family’s immersion into the world of “food styling” and food photography. They hired an expert to do a lot of that, but also ended up doing quite a bit themselves. The Grabers are a family of artists: watercolorists, book illustrators, potters, designers and musicians, so they already placed a great deal of attention on the presentation of their dishes.
“There were always three things we make sure of,” Sibyl said. “That the food tastes good, looks good and looks good together (as a full meal.) It also has to be easy to do.”
They took that concept to a whole new level for the cookbook, first cooking and then and styling every dish that went into the book. It often took several tries to get the perfect look for the dishes.
Some of the cooking was done at Sibyl’s C.R. 19 home in Goshen, but about four weekends were spent at Esther’s home near Nashville, Ind.. They spent hours cooking, arranging photos and — the payoff at the end — eating. Susan in New Zealand also cooked and took photos for the book. All of the work had to be accomplished from August to October 2011.
Meanwhile, Esther was busy painstakingly transcribing all of the recipes into a new format required by the publisher. She also wrote the forward and most of the cook’s notes.
“It is mom’s voice speaking throughout,” Sybil said. “She is a good writer.”
The sisters are also full of praise for Esther’s aplomb during an April book tour organized by the publisher. Sibyl, Ann and Esther spent time at book signings in Pennsylvania, but the most intimidating event was a satellite-fed interview session in New York City. The three women did 13, one to three-minute interviews with 13 different television stations.
“We are so proud of mom,” Sibyl said. “She is 81 years old. That (satellite) interview was grueling and the camera always went right to mom.”
The three sisters said they enjoyed the experience, though it was a tremendous amount of work, but they have no plans to pen another cookbook.
“We never set out to be published,” Ann said. “We just wanted to organize our three-ring binders.”
But she said, tapping the cover of the book, “This really is the cookbook we wanted for ourselves.”
Sibyl Graber Gerig
Favorite Family Supper
Penne with Eggplant, Tomatoes, Fresh
Mozzerella and Herbs
1/4 C. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
6 cups peeled, 1-inch cubes eggplant
1 lb. penne or other chunky pasta
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 C. chopped fresh parsley
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes or more to taste
12 oz. fresh mozzerella, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 C. grated parmesan
6 large, fresh basil leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese
Bring a large, covered pot of salted water to a boil
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs. Whisk in the flour, salt and pepper.
Add the eggplant cubes and toss to coat
Heat 1/4 C. of the olive oil in a large skillet until the oil is hot, but not smoking
Fry half the eggplant cubes over medium heat for about eight minutes, turning to brown lightly on all sides.
Remove the browned eggplant with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt, and set aside.
Cook the pasta in the boiling water until al dente. Drain.
While the pasta cooks, heat the remaining 2 Tbs. of oil in large saucepan. Add he tomatoes, garlic, parsley and red pepper flakes. Saute for 2-3 minutes, stirring gently.
Combine the pasta, eggplant and tomato mixture. Serve immediately, passing additional grated cheese on the table.
Ellen Graber Kraybill
Favorite Soup Supper
3 C. sifted flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. dry yeast
1/2 C., plus about 3 Tbs. warm milk, divided
2 tsp. sugar
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
4 Tbs. plain yogurt
poppy seeds or white onion seeds
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and yeast. Set aside
Beat the egg in another bowl. add the 1/2 C. warm milk, salt, sugar, oil and yogurt to the egg.
Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, adding the additional warm milk as needed. Knead for 10 minutes.
Coat the ball of dough slightly with oil. Let rise, covered, with a damp towel, for two hours.
Shape into six balls. Let rise again for 15 minutes, covered with a towel.
Shape each ball of dough into a teardrop shape, about 4 by 10 inches
Put three of these on a baking sheet, brush each with water, leaving a 1/4-inch margin around the outside edge.
Top with poppy seeds or white onion seeds. Let rise again for 15 minutes.
Broil on high for two minutes or until lightly brown.
Flip and broil on the other side.