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It took a pandemic and a societal shutdown — schools moving online, offices forced to telecommute, and restaurants restricted to takeout — for the dying art of home cooking to be resurrected.
It happened one soup pot, macaroni casserole and bread loaf at a time in kitchens across the country, including Utah.
And to whom, in many cases, did these cooks turn for comforting recipes and culinary advice in a time of need?
Some of Utah’s top Latter-day Saint food bloggers.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a better year on the blog,” said Carrian Cheney. “Our traffic almost quadrupled.”
The popularity of preparing food at home has been a silver lining of the pandemic, said Cheney, a Lehi resident and member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“It was a good reminder that cooking is an essential skill,” she said, “and that no matter what happens in life, you are probably going to have to step into the kitchen and make something.”
Si Foster, author of A Bountiful Kitchen, continued to post on her blog, even though she is serving the final months of her Latter-day Saint mission — along with her husband, Grant — in Barcelona, Spain.
Comfort foods — such as chicken pot pie, beef stew and lemon chicken — were among the 2020 favorite recipes, she wrote in an email. There also was increased interest in classic holiday recipes.
“I was flooded with questions about how to make Thanksgiving dinner,” Foster wrote. “I think many people who had never before made holiday dinners were (for the first time) on their own!”
Restaurant-style recipes like butter chicken and coconut shrimp curry also proved popular. “With many restaurants closed,” she said, “we missed our favorite menu items and learned how to make these recipes at home to fill the void.”
Other blogs written by Latter-day Saints saw similar gains during COVID-19.
Among them: Liz Edmunds, of Heber City, and Lizi Heaps, of Woodland, the mother-daughter duo behind The Food Nanny.
“Cooking exploded,” Heaps said, “and it took us to another level.”
Today, The Food Nanny Instagram account has 142,000 followers, double what it had a year ago and sales of its specialty flours and cookbooks soared.
It’s about faith and food
While food is the common denominator for these blogging experts, their religion has — and does — play a part in their professional and personal success.
“There is an underlying current” among the most successful Latter-day Saint food bloggers, Carrian Cheney said, “— that personal connections” and “tying families together” are important.
“Everything about who I am is because of my religious views,” she said, “I’m not just Carrian. I’m not just a wife and mother. I have this firm belief that I am a daughter of God. I know who I am — and whose I am.”
That spiritual force helps the mother of three “live up to my potential” and not worry about what others might think.
Cheney said ever since she was a young girl she has “wanted to be a place of warmth for people” and she has worked hard to make her website safe and inspiring to others.
Oh, Sweet Basil has never been about the food and recipes, she said. “It’s been about me opening the doorway and helping someone who wants to create a happy moment for their family. They want to have their kids one day look back and say, ‘I had a good mom who loved me.’
“Writing with that kind of purpose,” she added. “That is exactly why Utah bloggers have stuck around so long.”
During the pandemic, Cheney said, she was surprised that many of the most popular recipes weren’t the “quick and easy” ones that she thought people might gravitate toward. “They wanted the old classics from their childhood,” she said. “People wanted memories.”
Before COVID-19 struck, Cheney had already started work on a cookbook “Raised in the Kitchen: Making Memories from Scratch One Recipe at a Time,” which will be released by Utah-based Shadow Mountain Publishing on April 27.
While Cheney, along with her children — Claire, 15; Peyton, 10; and Grayson, 5 — share their favorite recipes and stories on cooking together as a family, the book is written more for parents than kids, encouraging them to spend time in the kitchen together.
“That is something society craves right now,” she said. “Corona has only fanned the flame.”
Blogging from Barcelona
Foster, a Bountiful resident, wondered if she would have to put her blog on hiatus during the couple’s 18-month church service, but their mission president encouraged her to make it part of the experience. Today, her Instagram page has nearly 83,000 followers, with a mix of posts about how to make Toll House pie and photos from a baptism of a mother and son.
Even though Foster created recipes for the blog before leaving on her mission, nothing could have prepared her for cooking lessons she would provide to young missionaries in her care during the pandemic.
“Our original assignment in the mission was to work with the young adults on the island of Mallorca,” she said. “I envisioned cooking a lot and hosting various activities.”
And she did for the first seven weeks. Then, as Spain went into quarantine, the couple had to redefine how they would serve.
“There were no walks, no going to restaurants, no using the car for a drive or doing anything outside our apartment for over two months,” she said. “At that time, we adjusted our role in the mission to focus more on supporting the young missionaries.”
Food, of course, was involved. Foster shared recipes a few times a week over a missionwide group chat.
“The confinement allowed the missionaries more time to cook, which was quite a change for most of them,” she said. “Missionaries are accustomed to throwing together meals so they can eat and be in and out of their apartments quickly. During the quarantine, they had more time to learn how to cook.”
The missionaries took photographs of their meals that were then posted put on a missionwide page, she said. “It was a fun event, a few times a week, for the missionaries to share their latest creations in the kitchen.”
Foster said she was hesitant the first time she talked about her faith on the blog, but it felt like the right thing to do.
“Anytime we are true to ourselves and not concerned about what others think about us, we are able to build more meaningful relationships,” she said. “I feel deeply about my faith and want to share it with others who may need a lift or are searching for a source of joy in their lives.”
Making food a family affair
More than a decade ago, Liz Edmunds wrote a cookbook, “The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner,” and hosted a BYUtv show with the same name. Both the book and the show helped families plan weekly meals using theme nights as their guide.
Monday was comfort food; Tuesday was Italian fare; Wednesday was fish or a meatless meal; and so on.
The already established brand got new life when Heaps, Edmunds’ youngest daughter, joined the blog and began showcasing her self-sufficient lifestyle. That included fresh milk from the family’s Jersey cow and making loaves of bread using Kamut flour.
Edmunds has been baking with the ancient grain almost exclusively for about five years — even when she and her husband served church missions in Germany and Belgium, she said. “I couldn’t live without it.”
When she returned, The Food Nanny site started selling the white Kamut flour, the whole grains as well as a new cookbook, “For the Love of Kamut,” which showed cooks how to use it.
Those bread recipes brought cooks — thousands of them — to The Food Nanny site in 2020.
“It was a combination of people becoming more aware of what they were eating and wanting to be healthier,” Edmunds said, “and searching for bread recipes, because people really got into that.”
Edmunds said the meal-planning message also has resonated with visitors — like it did when her seven children were young.
“The most important thing was gathering around the dinner table,” she said, “and sorting out the day.”
It’s a practice that has been declining the past two or three decades.
Edmunds recalled something Heaps told her when she wanted to more involved in the blog.
“She said, ‘Mom, your message never dies. It’s needed more than ever.”
And, as the pandemic has shown, she was right.