In the case of cookbook author Nancy Harmon Jenkins and her daughter, chef Sara Jenkins, the chestnut didn’t fall far from the tree. Aside from cooking, writing and a deep curiosity about “why food becomes the way it does,” as Sara Jenkins puts it, the pair share a love for their olive farm in Tuscany, especially the picnic table set under two ancient chestnut trees with a view down the valley into Umbria. “We’ve been feasting around it for 40 years,” Sara Jenkins said.

With Mother’s Day on our mind, we spoke with the mother-daughter culinary dynamo, Nancy Harmon Jenkins calling in from Camden, where she lives, and Sara Jenkins from New York City, her home of many years. Mom is a 13th-generation Mainer and an expert on the cooking of the Mediterranean, with eight cookbooks (and two non-food books) to her name. Daughter is the chef of two beloved Manhattan eateries – the sandwich shop Porchetta and the pasta-centric Porsena – and is set to move to Maine next month with her husband and 9-year-old son to open a Mediterranean restaurant in Rockport. She is also the co-author of two cookbooks and a former columnist for The Atlantic website. Mother and daughter recently collaborated on their first book together, “The Four Seasons of Pasta.” Our conversation touched on picky eaters, chowder and which of the two is the better cook.

Q: Nancy, was passing on your love of food to Sara intentional, the way my mother wanted her children to learn a musical instrument?

NHJ: No, not at all. I think it came about as a result of our living in so many places. I’ve always had this theory that the way to get into another culture is through its food. We lived in Spain twice. We lived in Paris. We lived in Beirut. And we lived in Hong Kong, all before we ended up in Italy, and in all of those places food was very important. (Her former husband was a foreign correspondent.) Sara and her brother always went out to eat with us. A lot of the time we spent on the weekends was around a big table full of food. That’s just what you do in those parts of the world. She grew up with good tastes in her mouth.

Q: But did you teach her to cook?

NHJ: People always want to think that Sara learned to cook by standing at her mother’s knee in the kitchen, and she didn’t. I think you learned more from Mita than you did from me, didn’t you Sara? Mita was our Italian neighbor and she was, in effect, the Italian nonna, grandmother, of my children.

Q: Did Sara hang around you in the kitchen when she was young?

NHJ: She mostly had her nose stuck in a book. She was a picky eater, we always say that.

Q: Any advice for the parents of picky eaters?

SJ: They should chill out. As long as your kid is eating healthy foods, who cares?

Q: Sara, are you teaching your own son to cook?

SJ: I take a tact with my child that my job is to see what he is interested in and encourage that, as opposed to impose my interest. But he’s a really picky eater. He likes pasta with tomato sauce. He likes fruits of every kind. He did have a Tibetan nanny as a child, so he’s really into dumplings. That’s probably the most exotic thing he eats.

Q: So, Sara, if you were a picky eater, when did you begin to enjoy food?

SJ: When I came back to the States when I was 15 years old. I had never thought much about what was put in front of me. I came back to boarding school in Maine. I was just appalled. I remember ordering a pizza in Bethel and being really puzzled. It wasn’t a pizza the way I thought of pizza.

Q: How was it different?

SJ: I think I ordered tomato pizza and what I got was a pizza with slices of plum tomato. That wasn’t what I meant. I probably meant pizza margherita. It didn’t occur to me that there was any variation on what I ordered. So you’re standing there wondering “What’s the problem? What did I do wrong?”

Q: Had you lived in Maine before?

SJ: No.

NHJ: But they came back every summer.

SJ: My aunt always says we were trained to demand lobster the minute we came over the state border. But when you live in Maine, it’s not as though you eat lobster on a daily basis.

NHJ: Although my mother was a great one for handing out lobster whenever the occasion demanded it. We used to have lobster for Thanksgiving. We used to have lobster for Christmas. Lobster for birthdays. I think my mother just loved lobster and loved any occasion to eat it.

Q: Nancy, were you pleased Sara became a chef?

NHJ: Very much pleased. I was a little bit surprised because she trained as a photographer and worked as a photographer. She really had a natural feel for the kitchen and the restaurant kitchen in particular. She had found her métier. And I think a parent is always happy when a child has found her métier. It means you can stop worrying about them a little bit.

Q: How about your son? Does he cook well?

NHJ: He’s a very good cook, but (disapproving tone) he’s a vegetarian.

Q: So that’s a bad thing?

NHJ: It’s kind of limiting. But he’s a very good vegetarian cook.

Q: What is your favorite dish of Sara’s?

NHJ: I just love the anelloni with lamb sausage and greens. I think it’s a fabulous dish. (See recipe.)

Q: Sara, what did your mother teach you about food and cooking?

SJ: I learned her respect for ingredients.

Q: Did she encourage your love of food and cooking?

SJ: No, not necessarily.

NHJ: You didn’t think I encouraged you?

SJ: I don’t think you discouraged me. But I just kind of took off with it. You were supportive.

NHJ: Yeah, certainly was. Still am.

Q: Do you have a favorite dish of your mother’s?

SJ: Oh yes, her chowder.

NHJ: Clam or fish or corn?

SJ: Lobster.

NHJ: It probably is Sam Hayward’s recipe for lobster chowder.

SJ: No, you’ve been making it much longer than that.

NHJ: That’s true. But Sam has sharpened my technique.

Q: Who is the better cook?

NHJ: She is far and away a better cook than I am. Which is not to say that I am a bad cook. She is speedy in the kitchen. She is focused in the kitchen. Things don’t fail her the way they fail me.

SJ: Honestly, I would agree.

NHJ: That you’re a better cook?

SJ: It’s not that you’re not a great cook and you don’t make fabulous delicious foods, but I have better skills. I do it professionally.

Q: What sparked your collaboration on “The Four Seasons of Pasta”?

SJ: It was (former New York Times food writer) Molly O’Neill. We wanted to do an e-book with her. It never came to fruition.

NHJ: She wanted us to do 25 winter pastas. So we did them. (The e-book) never came to anything, but there we were with these recipes. We thought, why not do spring and summer and fall? And we did, and we sold it to an agent and there we were on the road to fame and fortune. More fame than fortune, I’m afraid.

Q: How did you handle the mechanics of writing together?

SJ: Some recipes were very much mine, some were very much Nancy’s. Some we discussed. I always tell everybody that you didn’t want to make the pasta con sarde with sardines because you didn’t want people having to clean the sardines.

NHJ: I didn’t think you could get sardines. Here even in the capital – what used to be the capital – of sardine country, you can’t get them. But you can get them in New York, I guess. It’s a Sicilian traditional dish, and I think it’s wonderful. I’ve made it in Italy, but I’ve never made it here in the States.

Q: So did you include the sardine recipe in the end?

SJ: Yes, yes, we did.

Q: Sorry, to end with a bit of a snoozer, but I’m thinking readers will want to know. What are your favorite restaurants in Maine and New York?

SJ: I would say Long Grain (in Camden).

NHJ: Yes. Long Grain. And there is Bagaduce Lunch in Brooksville. It depends what you are looking for. Fore Street and Primo are still two great restaurants we have in Maine. My favorite restaurant in New York is, oddly enough, Porcena.