By Mason Braasch
After running two successful and beloved Madison businesses — The Collins House Bed & Breakfast and Manna Café & Bakery — retired entrepreneur Barb Pratzel has begun her next chapter (literally) by writing her own cookbook. “Manna Café and Bakery Cookbook” is filled with the recipes that Pratzel and her family have served for 35 years. We talked to her about the project.
What is the inspiration behind your cookbook?
I’ve always wanted to write a book, not particularly a cookbook per se, until Manna Café started facing the end. (Editor’s note: Pratzel says Manna Café closed unexpectedly early on in the pandemic). We knew that it was likely not going to make it and we knew how much that was going to hurt so many people and leave this big hole in people’s lives. The community spirit is hard to recreate in a cookbook! I wanted to find a way to not just present the recipes, but to put them in a context of the place so that people would feel whole again.
Are there any recipes in the book that hold a special place in your heart?
When I was a child, my father took me to a restaurant in upstate New York that served this mulligatawny soup, and I ate it. It’s one of those food memories that stays in your mind for the rest of your life, for whatever reason. I spent a lot of time trying to create a recipe for that memory, and it maybe isn’t perfect — but I love it — and that’s special to me for that reason.
What was your most popular dish at Manna Cafe that’s in the cookbook?
Well, our oatmeal pancakes are probably the most asked-for dish. It’s kind of funny because we had our launch party on Oct. 21, and immediately I got emails and Facebook posts from people saying, “I’m making the oatmeal pancakes tomorrow morning for breakfast!”
This cookbook is “a love letter to Madison.” What does that mean to you?
Madison has so much to offer people. I’m from New York and [my husband] is from St. Louis. We just both fell in love with everything about Madison. So, when we started the bed and breakfast, the big driving force for us was that we wanted to share our experience of Madison with people who are coming to visit us. Sharing our love of the city with out of town guests really became part of who we were as business people.
I hope the people who read the book are not just Manna people, but people who want to read about a special place and know that the recipes that they’re making are associated with that special place and were a part of a wonderful, huge community.
Find “Manna Café and Bakery Cookbook” locally at Orange Tree Imports, Mystery to Me, A Room of One’s Own, Frugal Muse, Leopold’s Books Bar Caffé and University Book Store.