Notes from a Maine Kitchen|
Seasonally Inspired Recipes
Down East 196pp, $27.95
Inspired is the right word, not just for the recipes but for the overall concept of this unusual cook book. As the title suggests, the book is organized around the calendar year...January through December. Each monthly section contains a charming personal essay which describes the origin or inspiration for the recipes that follow. January is a grabber. Once you finish the first month, you're hooked. I admit, this is the first cookbook I have ever read non-stop, cover to cover.
Gunst is an adventurous person in both deeds and recipes. Before eight a.m. on a cold January morning Gunst is standing outside Jim McPherson's Smelt Camps in Bowdoinham with a Portland chef and his fishing buddy. They are shown to the "deluxe" camp which a tiny shack, about 10 by 10 feet sitting pertly on the frozen Cathance River. Inside are 16 fishing lines and an old cast iron wood stove. The fire is already "cranked" and the fishing holes have already been cut through the foot thick ice. They are after smelt. At the end of the day they divide up the catch they haven't already eaten and there are still more than enough for everyone.
This charming winter adventure is followed by a recipe for pan-fired, cornmeal-coated Maine smelts as well a recipe for an accompanying "Better Than Tarter Sauce". Recipes for chicken stew and a Maine shrimp and haddock chowder along with additional cooking tips for the shrimp completes the month of January.
February's essay is a celebration of winter farmers' markets. The winter markets only started up in the last three or four years. They sell "everything from locally raised eggs and meat to winter greens, root vegetables, cheese, fish and hot-house tomatoes. (The Saco winter market that I go to has all that and more...breads, cereals, local fish and shell-fish, pastries, candies as well as homespun yarns and humongous bags of home grown (and popped) pop corn which will be gone before we get home--if enough of us are in the car-pool.) Recipes for winter greens salad and scrumptious vinaigrette, a roasted root veggie salad and dark chocolate tart... (more than sufficient solace for the short days) round out February.
But enough of the bleak mid-winter (which Gunst has done a delicious job of brightening up...I'm almost looking forward to winter, except for the fact that August is next and after a chat with a Deer Isle lobsterman, she fills that sublime month exclusively with lobster recipes. The lobster roll sounds perfect. The lobster salad and the lobster stew, ditto. Grilled lobster is a must try but I'm a little dubious about the lobster/mango combination.
The holiday months of November and December are full of celebratory winter favorites improved by the Gunst imagination and adventurous palate. November, however, is introduced by an essay titled "Hunger in Maine" in which she and her first grade daughter were witness to the suffering of a starving fellow first grader. Since then, Gunst volunteers as cook at local soup kitchen several times a year. She tells a few stories like this one: "then there was the time I served roasted vegetable soup. A guy in a T-shirt and a knitted cap with a large hole in the center came to the kitchen door. "I don't know how to cook," he said, "and I don't know how to make soup. But I'll tell you something. If I could make soup, I'd want it to taste just like that. I felt like crap when I got here. I feel really good now."
You may not feel that bad, but you'll feel better just reading this cook book. Then think how you'll feel when you start using the recipes. Yum!