'The 406 Table' is the first book from the self-published Billings author Karen Barbee that binds her story of growing up in Montana with 108 simple recipes and colorful historic stories of Big Sky country.
MTN News spoke with Barbee during a book signing at the Moss Mansion in Billings Saturday.
"People are very fascinated with Montana. They love the parks, they love the history, as do I. So, I have recipes that are mine, but I dedicated them to places people and things that were pertinent to Montana history," said Barbee.
The book is a "labor of love" 22 years in the making. Barbee said the idea was sparked after she emailed her sisters 12 stories of their youth for Christmas. She grew up on a ranch northeast of Great Falls and has called Montana home ever since.
"There’s over 283 photos of which I’ve done most of the photography. There’s 108 recipes. There’s 40 very interesting history segments that are interspersed throughout the book. I have taken all corners of Montana and I tried to do a tribute to something that was pertinent to that area."
One recipe is dedicated to the keel boat dugout canoes that Lewis and Clark took down the Missouri River. The dish is a baked sweet potato that bears resemblance to the canoes.
But the recipe for the Bridger Bowl chowder is Barbee's favorite. It's a hearty dish with lots of vegetables that she says is great after a long day of skiing.
“My favorite is the Bridger Bowl chowder. It’s so hearty, so delicious. Every time my daughter comes home, that is on the stove. It smells wonderful. With Montana winters, it’s really rich, has great vegetables, and will warm you up," Barbee said.
She added that putting her story to the page was an important step in preserving and sharing her family history.
"I grew up in a family that we shared history, sentiments, everything was dedicated around our 406 table." Barbee said. "I did this to pay it forward, because it’s going to get lost in time.”
“I think everybody should celebrate their family heritage and their history and put it down somewhere. Because people are moving away, and it gets lost and there aren’t those table conversations as much anymore.”
The recipes were created by Barbee, her grandmother and a few friends. The book also gives a sneak peek to the stories of Montana's historic mansions. She wanted to encourage people to take a visit to the state's historic homes.
"What I realized is that there are so many people that volunteer their own time to help make sure that tours take place. And that these Mansions were owned by someone who created in the state of Montana a business that was an offshoot and created another business," Barbee said.
"I was just encouraging people to do the same thing. I whetted their appetite, I didn’t give them everything, but I hope that whoever the book falls in the hands of will pursue looking at a mansion in their area.”
The book has already sold 700 copies since its Nov. 3 debut, Barbee said. “It’s been a frenzy. I believed in the book, but I had no idea it was going to be so well received."
So far, Barbee has been selling physical copies of the book only in Billings. She has plans to distribute the book to locations across the state.
Barbee will be headed on a statewide book tour starting on Mother’s Day. She will speak about her book and share her story of becoming a self-published author.
“I will be traveling through the state and the parks signing books and sharing the ideas I had and how I came to do the book. And giving people inspiration if the want to write. Telling people 'here's how I went about it,'" Barbee said.
She will start her tour with a lecture in Great Falls, a fitting place since the city is near where she grew up. To keep up with where Barbee is headed, visit her website by clicking here.
"It's my love story to Montana. Everything I love: family, food, friends, history, trivia. And I've compiled it into my book 'The 406 Table,'" Barbee said.