November Book Review: Cooking with Shelburne Farms


With members all over the state, the board of Slow Food Vermont does a lot of car-pooling. Hurtling through an early autumnal night in Central Vermont recently, we were talking about a restaurant that one of our members had visited in Montreal. She described the dishes as being simple in presentation, but hearty and full-flavored, liberal in their use of eggs and cream.

“Ahh,” said another member sitting snug beside me. “Farm food.” Her words hung in the car’s heated interior, as we thought about what that phrase might mean, and what it meant to each of us. Finally, someone else asked what she meant by “farm food.” “You know,” she said, her voice smiling and sighing, “the kind of food you really want to eat after working on a farm all day long.”

That’s the kind of food found in the cookbook, Cooking with Shelburne Farms: Food and Stories from Vermont, by Melissa Pasanen and Rick Gencarelli. Uncomplicated, honest, satisfying food that could qualify as comfort food, but also certainly fancy enough for a company dinner. In many ways, the book itself reminds me of the historic landmark: bound in chocolate brown, gold-stamped linen, it evokes the slate-roofed formal turrets of the farm barns, house and restaurant. Underneath the elegance, Shelburne Farms is a productive working farm, and so it is with the book as well, between the well-crafted covers lie over 130 recipes that warmly feed the body and the soul.

The book is divided up into base ingredients, or themes, into which the recipes are grouped. Savory Milk and Cheese, Early Spring and Summer Greens, Lamb, Wild Mushrooms, Apples, Sweet Maple; these are some examples of the section headings, which are designed to highlight produce or flavors which are familiar to the Farms. The first recipe I tried from the book had to be the most fun – Home-Churned Butter. It was shockingly easy to make and very satisfying to be able to produce at home something I frankly take for granted.

After that opener, the recipes continued to comfort and delight as I cooked and my family and friends devoured them. We served the Shepherd’s Pie with Caramelized Onions and Cheddar Smash to some house-guests for dinner, and the leftovers were especially requested for the following day again as lunch. The Tomato-Cheddar Soup and the Celery Root Soup with Blue Cheese both helped to invigorate us and keep a head cold at bay. A brunch with friends included the Golden Flannel Hash (featuring beets and smoked trout), and the Orange-Yogurt Coffee Cake. One late night at work for my husband meant coming home to the Milk-Braised Chicken with Sage and Bay, with Honey Glazed Carrots and Turnips. Another late night offered Spice-Rubbed Lamb Chops with Fennel, Chickpeas and Tomatoes.

Interspersed with the recipes are beautiful color photographs, and interviews with Shelburne Farms farmers and producers and the Webb family. This book brings a beautiful part of Vermont history and landscape to life in my own kitchen.

“Cooking with Shelburne Farms: Food and Stories from Vermont”, by Melissa Pasanen & Rick Gencarelli. Photos by Susie Cushner & Jordan Silverman. published by Viking Studio, 2007. 304 pages, color photos.

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