SHELBURNE - Another cookbook? When Melissa Pasanen, chief food correspondent for the Burlington Free press, decided to put her passion and expertise with food to work in a cookbook, she knew she had to do something different. I get so many cookbooks and they dont add much. She started talking the idea over with Amy Trubeck at the University of Vermont where Melissa had taken some courses and a friendship developed. Amy had been director of the Vermont Fresh Network, a collaborative of farmers, food producers, and chefs to capitalize on and use the wonderful array of foods produced in Vermont. The idea for doing a cookbook with Shelburne Farms came from their discussions. One of the first things we did as a family was to join Shelburne Farms when we came back to Vermont 8 years ago, says Melissa, The idea of basing the book on Shelburne Farms made so much sense!
Melissas enthusiasm for the project is amazing and must have been evident in her initial email correspondence with President Alec Webb and Vice-President Director Megan Camp and others at Shelburne Farms. Shelburne Farms has the sense of personality and place I was looking for. I wanted to create a book with more than recipes, a book that tells the story. Indeed, with the help of the Inn at Shelburne Farms Head Chef Rick Gencarelli, this is exactly what Cooking with Shelburne Farms does. The books subtitle, Food and Stories from Vermont and the cover photo of the magnificent Farm Barn with the beautiful Brown Swiss cows that have made the Farms Farmhouse Cheddar a regular award winner are only hints of the exciting contents and beautiful photography contained in this very unique cookbook.
Pasanen found that her partnership with Shelburne Farms provided the foundation she needed. The mission of the Farms is to cultivate a conservation ethic and does this by serving as an educational resource by practicing rural land use that is environmentally, economically and culturally sustainable. Its a working farm and Pasanen notes, Food is not the main mission of the Farms, but it is a big part of it. This cookbook is educational - another aspect of the mission - and using the Farms as a resource, I was able to weave the stories of Vermont farmers, cheesemakers, and maple sugarers into the context of Vermonts agricultural heritage.
From the beginning the collaboration between Pasanen and Gencarelli worked well. Although Chef Gencarelli had never produced his own cookbook, he helped his mentor and former boss, Todd English, world-renowned, charismatic executive chef and creator of many high end restaurants such as Olives, Figs, Blue Zoo at Disney World on two cookbooks. In fact, Gencarelli tells a story of his own every time he talks about his food. It was fun for me to work with Melissa, says Chef Rick, The book used my sensibility and training as a professional chef and Melissas ability to translate this into a simple set of steps that will resonate with the home cook. In fact, this whole process has actually helped me - to let the ingredients do their thing.
Pasanen and Gencarelli agreed that the structure of the book should be based on ingredients that reflect Vermonts agricultural heritage, hence, chapters on Savory Milk and Cheese, Lamb reflecting Vermonts enormous sheep production in the 1800's, and interestingly a chapter on Savory Maple and another on Sweet Maple. Whats the difference in the two maple chapters? Savory Maple recipes include everything from the Inn at Shelburne Farms popular Maple-Ginger Vinaigrette dressing to an absolutely fabulous Maple-Chipolte Scallops recipe. The Sweet Maple chapter blends traditional favorites such as Maple-Nut Granola, an updated and very kid-friendly recipe, with some interesting new recipes for Streuseled Maple Corn Muffins and a real favorite of mine, Maple Sugar Blondies.
Pasanen and Gencarelli established some criteria for their recipe choices - comfortable, country - not restaurant recipes - emphasizing old-fashioned from scratch preparation, yet updated for todays busy home kitchen. Wed think about Vermont ingredients like milk and cheese, according to Melissa, What can you do with milk - you may not even think of it as an ingredient. Then theyd go to work in Melissas kitchen - a home kitchen had to be the test kitchen to make this cookbook work. With Ricks experience we altered a European favorite - pork braised in milk - to Milk-Braised Chicken with Sage and Bay, says Melissa who points out that theres no chapter on chicken because it doesnt fit with Vermonts agricultural heritage, so youll find this recipe in the chapter on milk and cheese. The chicken braised in milk recipe is much quicker and easier than pork and makes use of locally grown herbs for a wonderful family meal.
Sprinkled throughout the book are people stories - for instance, longtime sugarmaker Dave Marvin of Butternut Mountain Farm and hunters Frank and Steve Leffler. These little vignettes add depth and context to this book; for example, the Lefflers story is presented the chapter called Game and Fish. My advice is to make sure you read these little stories each time you choose a recipe. Melissa Pasanen with the help of Chef Rick Gencarelli have accomplished their goal - a cookbook with personality and a sense of place and time. This is more than a reference book for the home cook; its a journey into Vermonts very heart - its agriculture and its heritage through its premier food products and exceptional people. This is a must for your cookbook collection! And its a cookbook youll use!