GORHAM — First-timers at one of JoAnn Wood’s cooking classes will find helpful signs pointing the way down the long hallways of Gorham Middle School.

I was also led by my nose, which picked up the sweet-spicy scent of mulled cider Wood had simmering on a stove in the school’s home ec classroom; she offered it to attendees as they arrived for a recent 2 1/2-hour Comforting Foods class.

Mary Murphy preps ingredients for an apple crisp in the Comforting Foods class taught by JoAnne Wood, left. Gordon Chibroski photo

Mary Murphy preps ingredients for an apple crisp in the Comforting Foods class taught by JoAnne Wood, left. Gordon Chibroski photo Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Wood has taught cooking classes through Gorham Adult Education for 10 years. Her bio on the Gorham Adult Ed website said she was born in England and “comes from a long line of British bakers,” prompting me to expect a heavily accented character right out of “The Great British Baking Show.” That turned out to be off the mark; raised in California, Wood has an easygoing, thoroughly American approach to food and cooking. Several of her 17 students for this class said they were regulars, and I could see how they would be drawn to her warm manner and inclusive instruction style.

“For me, food and cooking is more than sustenance, it’s a soul-satisfying experience.” Wood said.

Wood stood behind a long table covered with un-fancy ingredients and cookware, facing her students. She began by telling the group that she would be asking volunteers to jump in and help with various tasks, however they were also welcome to “sit back and enjoy the show.”

On the menu: chicken and dumplings soup; wedge salad with blue cheese dressing and garlic croutons; carnitas pork tacos; gnocchi mac and cheese; apple crisp with vanilla bean creme anglais; and individual molten lava cakes.

Wood does a significant amount of prep in advance so she can “get in lots of recipes,” she said. For the apple crisp, a student peeled and chopped the apples, while another added butter to the topping ingredients, pre-measured by Wood and brought to class in a baggie. The dry ingredients for the molten lava cakes were also portioned out into plastic bags for students to make at home. And Wood readily admitted that she had purchased the gnocchi for the mac and cheese. But she demonstrated how to make blue cheese dressing and croutons – two items even experienced cooks might be tempted to buy.

Food items are prepped in advance for a "comfort foods" cooking class at Gorham Middle School. Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Food items are prepped in advance for a “comfort foods” cooking class at Gorham Middle School. Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

As she worked through the recipes, she folded in mini lessons, showing the student making chicken soup how to dice an onion, explaining how to strip leaves from a sprig of fresh thyme, and extolling the benefits of grating fresh nutmeg.

“Never be afraid to get in there with your hands,” she said as she used hers to mix bread cubes for croutons with garlic and olive oil. While juicing a lemon for the apple crisp: “If someone finds a seed, they’ll know it’s homemade.”

After the crisp and croutons were in the oven and the chicken soup well underway, Wood gleefully declared: “Let’s eat something.” Her pork carnitas – spicy, rich slow-cooked pork – had been warming up on the back of the stove. She explained how to make the Mexican-inspired dish as students lined up to spoon the meat into warmed tortillas and top it with pickled vegetables.

A short break for sustenance, and then it was on to more soul satisfaction with mac and cheese.

MAINE ADULT EDUCATION, cooking classes around the state including Gorham. One-lesson classes and six-week courses, $25 to $109. maineadulted.org.