Who knows how long this pandemic will go on, or if it will return, but if it lingers, or comes back, this batch of three new diverse Maine cookbooks has us well-prepared to continue to cook at home. Read on for a quick chat with Lincolnville cooking school teacher Annemarie Ahearn about her new cookbook, “Modern Country Cooking: Kitchen Skills and Seasonal Recipes from Salt Water Farm,” followed by a look at two other cookbooks out this spring: “Eventide: Recipes for Clambakes, Oysters, Lobster Rolls, and More From a Modern Maine Seafood Shack” and “Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook.”

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Cover courtesy of Roost Books

For a dozen years, Annemarie Ahearn has taught highly seasonal, informal country cooking at her Salt Water Farm in Lincolnville. In “Modern Country Cooking: Kitchen Skills and Seasonal Recipes from Salt Water Farm,” her second cookbook, she’s translated her recipes, lessons and culinary approach to the page.

The book, published this spring, is grounded in Maine and in the seasons — the chapters are named for the months of the year, the photos (by Kristin Teig) show lupines, and the essays scattered throughout reflect on Maine winters and the July “‘shedder’ season.” But the recipes evince a modern, global sensibility, offering home cooks sophisticated dishes like Ditalini with Sardines, Fennel, and Bread Crumbs; Maine Coast Bouillabaise; and Tortilla Soup.

We spoke with Ahearn, who lives on the farm overlooking Penobscot Bay with her husband and toddler daughter, about “Modern Country Cooking,” pandemics and turning 40. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How did writing book No. 2 compare to the first?

A: The second book is a true reflection of the work that I do. So many of my students have sent me notes saying it’s like listening to me talk. We have a specific style and mission. Those students have become converts. They are now Salt Water Farm cooks.

Q: What exactly does that mean?

A: Being a Salt Water Farm cook? It means being resourceful in the kitchen. It means allowing the season and the market to inspire your cooking. It means trying to rely less on recipes and more on instincts and your senses. And it means having a light heart in the kitchen. A lot of people are inhibited by the fact they take it all too seriously. Cooking is so much more fun when you liberate yourself and cook simple, delicious food.

Q: So, er, don’t rely on recipes, but you’ve just published a book full of them?

A: You need a recipe as a guideline to follow, particularly if you are somebody who is an A-type personality and needs a plan. Use the recipe a first time, maybe a second, even a third. Then just try to remember what worked and what didn’t work and really pay attention when you are cooking. People who are singularly focused on the words on the page are not paying attention to what is happening in their pan.

Q: In the midst of a pandemic, “resourceful” seems the word of the moment.

A: People think every recipe is entirely unique, but it’s not. If you have a basic understanding of how to make a cake, how to make a vinaigrette, how to braise a piece of meat, then you can make 50 dishes with a number of different ingredients. Oftentimes, you have what you need already. I am really referencing this time of the pandemic: You don’t want to go to the store if you don’t have to. If you do one big shop a week and have a basic understanding of cooking, you should be able to eat well all week.

Q: What has it been like to publish a cookbook in the middle of a pandemic? Did you have a book tour planned?

A: I did, and it was canceled. I was going to Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, New York, Los Angeles. I was teaching at cooking schools across the country. That was a bummer, to say the least. (But) not only does it turn out to be a great time to write about home cooking, because more people are cooking than ever before, but it’s also a great time to connect with people, and not just in traditional ways. We are also doing Zoom classes now. I was totally skeptical. But they are wonderful. I see all my students in aprons in their home kitchens. They feel safe. They ask a ton of questions. It’s a wonderful distraction from the rest of what is happening.

All the classes at Salt Water Farm are canceled through July. I love teaching, but I consider myself one of the lucky ones. My business can operate online. I have friends who work in catering and restaurants; they are up against challenges I am not. Relative to what others are struggling with, I am deeply grateful.

Q: What’s next? A third book?

A: I am turning 40 next year. My goal for 40 was to slow down a little bit and and reflect a bit and spend time with my family. I will write another book, but I want the idea to come to me. I don’t want to go looking for it.

— PEGGY GRODINSKY

Minted Hummus Photo by Kristin Teig, reprinted in arrangement with Roost Books

Minted Hummus with Celery Leaves, Feta and Radishes

Annemarie Ahearn includes this recipe from “Modern Country Cooking” in her chapter on February, when she says she enjoys the vegetables for their “welcome crunch and much-needed color in a drab month.” No doubt true, but I needed to tame my mint bed and use up farmers market radishes, so I lunched on this cooling, lively dish on an unseasonably warm May afternoon. The recipe is very lightly adapted.

Serves 4 to 6

FOR THE HUMMUS:
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Kosher salt
1 (15-ounce) can good-quality (organic) garbanzo beans, drained
6 sprigs mint, leaves picked from stems
Zest and juice of 2 small lemons or 1 large lemon
6 tablespoons to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large pinch red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tahini

FOR THE SALAD:
6 oz. fresh feta cheese, broken up into bite-size pieces
1 cup thinly sliced celery, cut on a slight diagonal (ideally on a mandoline)
4 radishes, sliced in half
1 cup cleaned celery leaves
8 sprigs parsley, leaves picked from stems
1/4 red onion or small shallot, small dice
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

FOR THE DRESSING:
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

TO FINISH:
Chili oil or additional extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt

To make the hummus, add all the ingredients to a food processor and puree until smooth (this could take a few minutes). Season to taste. Use additional olive oil to thin the hummus if necessary. You want it to hold its shape without being stiff.

To make the salad, place all the salad ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Dress with the lemon juice, sherry vinegar and olive oil.

To plate, cover the base of a large, shallow serving bowl with 1/2 inch of the hummus. Reserve the rest for the week to come. Pile the salad up on top, showing the hummus around the edges. Drizzle with a bit of chili oil or additional olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.

From “Modern Country Cooking ” by Annemarie Ahearn © 2020 Annemarie Ahearn.  Photos © 2020 Kristin Teig. Reprinted in arrangement with  Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications.

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Recreate your favorites from the Eventide Oyster menu with this new cookbook written by the owners of the popular Portland restaurant. Photo by Zach Bowen

Don’t worry, Eventide Oyster fans, the trio behind Portland’s hippest and most imaginative seafood restaurant did not forget to include the famous Brown Butter Lobster Roll in their much-anticipated new cookbook.

Yes, it’s finally here: “Eventide: Recipes for Clambakes, Oysters, Lobster Rolls, and More From a Modern Maine Seafood Shack” (Ten Speed Press, $30), exceptionally well written by James Beard Award winners Arlin Smith, Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley, in collaboration with Boston food writer Sam Hiersteiner.

The book contains 120 recipes that regulars at the Middle Street restaurant will recognize, beginning with creative flavored ices and mignonettes and ending with cocktails and desserts. But what lies in the middle pages may tempt you the most – the crudo, the halibut tail bo ssam, the fried oyster bun, the broiled jumbo Winterpoint oysters (with Korean barbecue sauce, Daikon slaw and candied nuts), and, of course, the New England clam chowder. Visual guides for prepping seafood are included.

Mike Wiley, who just became a new father, says he, Smith and Taylor wanted the book to appeal to cooks of all skill levels. A seasoned line cook with fine-dining chops might be drawn to the sea urchin chawanmushi, a delicate, savory Japanese custard, Wiley said.

“We’ve got a handful of large format, really ambitious, feast-type meals that I think even the most studious home cook would find broadening and even challenging,” he said. “And then we’ve got really simple, straightforward approaches to making vinaigrettes that break culinary school rules.”

The fried oyster bun and brown butter lobster roll at Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland. Photo by Douglas Merriam

This is a cookbook you’ll want to read from cover to cover, especially if you live in Portland and love eating at Eventide. The book tells the inside story of how the authors launched the business, along the way giving props to mentors such as chef Rob Evans (former owner of Hugo’s, current owner of Duckfat), culinary booksellers Don and Samantha Lindgren, and local restaurant legends Dana Street and Sam Hayward. They poke fun at themselves and their inexperience, noting that what looked like bold decisions in the beginning “were actually naivety at work.”

“If you are interested in embarking on a path of personal growth and revelations galore, then I highly recommend opening a restaurant,” Wiley joked.

How far they have come: The New York Times recently included Eventide on its list of “12 Restaurants America Loves.”

Wiley credits their success to timing – the renewed interest in oysters and raw fish, the growth of food tourism, and America’s sudden discovery of Portland – and their own determination to maintain Hugo’s-style standards in a simple oyster bar. Even in its early days, Wiley said, Eventide drew the sort of diners who cared about where their food came from and how it was handled, including young “food people” and “lots of old-timers who were just psyched that they didn’t have to hop in the car and drive an hour-and-a-half to get the kind of oysters they wanted to eat.” The monkfish liver torchon and lightly pickled mackerel (the mackerel recipe is in the book) sold “like hot cakes,” he said.

“The big-hearted little city of Portland took the leap with us from the moment the doors opened,” the authors write in the introduction to Eventide. “Man, do we love this town.”

Thanks, guys, we love you, too.

— MEREDITH GOAD

Eventide is known for the creative ices and mignonettes it serves with Maine oysters. Photo by Zack Bowen

HORSERADISH ICE

Makes about 3⅓ cups

Simple syrup is made by bringing equal parts sugar and water to a boil, then letting the mixture simmer several minutes to dissolve the sugar and thicken slightly.

1 1⁄4 cups prepared horseradish
1⁄2 cup Champagne vinegar
1⁄3 cup simple syrup
1 1⁄4 cups water

Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl and freeze the mixture completely by placing the bowl in the freezer for 3 hours. Once frozen, use the tines of a fork to scrape the mixture into a light, fluffy ice. Serve immediately or return to the freezer to store in a covered container. The ice will last for 2 months in the freezer; when you want to deploy it, just use a fork to scrape it again.

BLACK TRUMPET AND ROSEMARY MIGNONETTE

Makes about 1¼ cups

1 sprig rosemary
1 pound fresh black trumpet mushrooms, finely chopped (fresh shiitakes and reconstituted dried black trumpets are suitable substitutes)
1 small shallot, minced
1 tablespoon water
1⁄2 cup balsamic vinegar
1⁄2 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
Finishing salt

Turn on your gas range or light a torch or lighter and lightly wave the rosemary sprig over the flame until the leaves pick up a little char here and there. Kill the flame and set the sprig aside to cool. Pull the rosemary leaves from the stems and very finely chop the leaves.

Add the chopped rosemary, mushrooms, shallot and water to a pan over medium-low heat and sweat until the mushrooms release their liquid and the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Add both vinegars and bring the mixture to a bare simmer, then remove the pot from the heat. When the mixture cools to room temperature, stir in the honey and salt to taste. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1 month.

Reprinted from Eventide. Copyright © 2020 by Arlin Smith, Andrew Taylor, and Mike Wiley. Photographs copyright © 2020 by Zack Bowen. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House.

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Islandport Press/courtesy of Karl Schatz

If we are what we eat, then Maine is not only the Sicard family tourtiere (Michele Pfannenstiel, Cumberland), haddock chowder (Jeff Holden, Cape Elizabeth) and potato fudge (Rosalie Colby, Hiram), but also string beans with lamb and cracked wheat pilaf (Andrea Martin, Portland), empanadas Colombianas (Juanita Cuellar Nichols, Freeport), and sea moss farina (Frances Harlow Clukey, Bangor). These are just a few of the many recipes in the heartfelt “Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook: 200 Recipes Celebrating Maine’s Culinary Past, Present & Future” (Islandport Press, $20.20), out in June. It is one of the few birthday celebrations that didn’t have to be canceled or postponed because of the pandemic.

In some ways, the recipes are the least of it. The crowd-sourced and crowd-funded cookbook, compiled and edited by Gray residents Margaret Hathaway and Karl Schatz of Ten Apple Farm with ample input — and an introduction — from antiquarian cookbook bookseller Don Lindgren of Rabelais in Biddeford, is a jumble of funny, fascinating, earnest and all-embracing material. As is right for a community cookbook, the editors cast a broad net.

Submissions come from old and new Mainers, from well-known residents of the state (Sen. Susan Collins, blueberry muffins; Stonewall Kitchen co-founder Jim Stott, Stars and Stripes Pie with blueberries and strawberries; chef Sam Hayward, braised lamb shoulder; and horror writer Stephen King, lunchtime gloop, to name just a few) and many ordinary ones — as well as their mothers and grandmothers. There are many mothers and grandmothers in these pages.

Alongside the recipes, the “Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook” offers essays and anecdotes; engrossing history; photographs of Mainers spanning at least a century; reprints of recipes from community cookbooks that long predate this one; advertisements from local businesses; and miscellaneous inclusions like the state proclamation for Whoopie Pie Day and the moving poem written by Gov. Janet Mills that opens the collection, “A Recipe for Public Policy,” which makes a gentle plea for civility and patience — its timing is spot-0n.

The book has the design sensibility of a community cookbook, too. If you are looking for a lavishly photographed, highly curated lifestyle cookbook, keep looking. The “Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook” is a paperback (no spiral binding, however). Its cover is bright red with large capital letters in a utilitarian sans serif font. The chapter names are announced on a retro stock graphic of an unscrolling banner. Ampersands are used freely. And while there are many photographs of Mainers, there are no photographs of food. As Hathaway and Schatz explain in their introduction, “we deliberately chose to leave the finished dishes to the reader’s imaginations. Home cooking is about comfort. In this age of perfectionist, Instagrammable meals, we hope this frees you up to plate them however you’d like. It’s not important what the food looks like — it’s how it tastes, and who you share it with.”

Speaking of which, just how does that fiddlehead cake (Claudette Rossignol, Van Buren) taste?! It seems to be a carrot cake at heart that swaps in grated fiddleheads for the usual carrots. A novelty? I don’t think so. Judging by her picture, Rossignol looks like the real deal. The recipe has gone straight to my Must Try list.

There are many ways to gain insight into a place. You can listen to its music, learn its language, educate yourself about its history…taste its food. The “Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook” provides an expansive and loving introduction to the kitchens, traditions and people of Maine.

— PEGGY GRODINSKY

Characteristic pages from the “Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook,” with old photos, recent photos, recipes and food history. Islandport Press/photo courtesy of Karl Schatz

Mrs. Gross’s Apple Pudding (Vickie Simpson, Bath)

Simpson writes that she thinks her mother began baking this pudding as a young bride in the late 1930s — the recipe is illustrated with a photo of the young couple skiing at Sugarloaf. Simpson said it was a favorite dessert when she was growing up, and still is. Her father worked at Bath Iron Works, and while she has no idea who Mrs. Gross was, she imagines her as “perhaps another shipbuilder’s wife also with a hungry family.”

6 to 8 apples peeled and cut into chunks or slices
1/2 cup to 1 cup rhubarb or wild Maine blueberries, fresh or Wyman’s frozen
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup butter, melted

Put fruit in a greased baking dish, the approximate size of a pie plate but deeper.

Mix dry ingredients, except cinnamon, in a glass or metal bowl, and mix egg in with fork until all is crumbly, like coarse cornmeal. Cover fruit with crumbly mix. Sprinkle cinnamon lightly over the top. Pour melted butter over the whole surface.

Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes, until top is lightly browned.


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