Autumn in New England


BOOKMARK: Cookbooks celebrate the bounty of the Northeast

October 01, 2008|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,

Fall is New England's signature season, in both foliage and food. It brings the flavors of tradition - apples and cranberries, maple syrup, squash and pumpkins in vivid colors and interesting shapes. Hearty chowders and stews. Indian pudding. Pancakes, with the fruit of the orchard. And the abundant bounty of the sea, so much a part of life from Connecticut to Maine.

But, as a spate of new and updated cookbooks from the region shows, there's much more to New England cooking than the food of the Pilgrims and the American Indians, especially during this harvest time of year.

Cooking Vermont style, you may find beer in your chocolate cake, and maple syrup and mascarpone cheese flavoring your croque-monsieur. Yankee standards make room for classic fare from Brazil and Portugal, reflecting the long-growing ethnic communities whose feijoada and sweet breads are getting their due.

African-American cooks from Martha's Vineyard are getting theirs, too, with a new chapter of recipes in an updated version of a long-standing cookbook from that island vacation spot in Massachusetts.

"Our main focus was that people should know about these cuisines, and we hope to get people interested," says Jean Stewart Wexler, an author of The Martha's Vineyard Cookbook.

The most cutting-edge book of the recent New England crop is Dishing Up Vermont (Storey Publishing, 2008, $19.95) by food writer Tracey Medeiros, which showcases the products and recipes of farms, orchards, restaurants and inns in that increasingly food-centric state. The Vermont Fresh Network, which benefits from a portion of the book's proceeds, was the nation's first statewide farm-to-restaurant program.

As is the trend among local-food cookbooks, Dishing Up Vermont offers lots of beautiful photographs, not of the recipes, but of their raw ingredients in natural settings - stalks of corn, berries on the vine and, yes, unsuspecting lambs who may eventually become dinner.

Those raw ingredients are used in inventive ways.

Sometime this fall, you simply must put aside your normal brunch dish for the book's exquisitely decadent Vermont Croque Monsieur. This version of the traditional French bistro sandwich, contributed by a chef from Cliff House at Stowe Mountain Resort, features cinnamon-raisin bread cooked in egg and slathered with a spread of mascarpone cheese blended with chives and a bit of maple syrup, then piled high with ham, turkey and Gouda and baked.

The book's flourishes are fun, but some of the best food in Dishing Up Vermont is simple. With just eight basic ingredients, the Flip-Over Apple Cake is a good example. Its slightly crunchy yet buttery underbelly serves as a fine foil for its tender, pretty apple topping. Though the book's recipe, contributed by the owners of a 114-year-old Vermont orchard, calls for Northern Spy or Rhode Island Greening apples, I found that a combination of Ginger Gold and Gala apples harvested in closer-by Pennsylvania tasted just fine.

Another recent book from the Northeast, The New England Clam Shack Cookbook (Storey Publising, 2008, $16.95) moves away from the orchards to the seafood shacks, lobster pounds and chowder houses of the coast. In her second edition of the book, author Brooke Dojny surveys more than 100 places to visit in the region for a can't-miss casual meal, and offers recipes and techniques from those who know New England seafood best.

Portsmouth Seafood Chowder, from BG's Boat House in Portsmouth, N.H., is the perfect recipe for a cool, leisurely afternoon, with a milky broth, thickened with half-and-half and a little cornstarch. It combines haddock (or any white fish), scallops and potatoes with a savory accent of bacon and onions.

The book has illustrated guides on cleaning and filleting fish and shucking clams and oysters. And if you're traveling to the area, Dojny offers three weekend dining itineraries around Portland, Maine; Newport and Bristol, R.I.; and along the north shore of Massachusetts.

The new fourth edition of the quirky Martha's Vineyard Cookbook (Globe Pequot Press, 2008, $19.95), originally published in 1971, has a lot of old, traditional recipes - even its newly included African-American recipes have been around the island a long time, says Wexler, whose co-author, Louise Tate King, died in 2000.

From the African-American chapter, we tried Pork Chops Under Milk, a simple and subtle slow-cooked dinner with the gravy baked right in.

The Brazilian population on the island has grown more recently, Wexler says. In addition to feijoada, a staple Brazilian dish of rice and beans, the cookbook includes new recipes for Baked Cauliflower with onions, peppers, tomato and olives, and an appetizer of Hearts of Palm on Toast Points.

There's also a chapter of historical recipes, called "old timers," with names like Potato Bargain and Chicken and Oyster Stifle.

tips from the new england books

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