Vermont is one of the greatest places in America! It is remarkably clean, characteristically green of unspoiled forest land and the air is pure. There is always plenty to do by just doing nothing at all hike a trail, watch the clouds glide by the pearlescent blue sky or lollygag around any of the towns just for the sake of lollygagging. And, the food from Vermont reflects the environment as much as the food from the Willamette Valley in the Pacific Northwest harks of its origins or the bounty from the Gulf of Mexico does the same for that region.
Shelburne Farms is a glorious epicenter for examining what is exciting in Vermont fare. As such, "Cooking with Shelburne Farms: Food and Stories from Vermont" is a great tome on what is possible with Vermont's local ingredients. Quite honestly, without sounding like an advertisement for the Vermont Bureau of Tourism, the folks in Vermont have it right they care about their environment, they buy local, they support farmers and their understated lifestyle is cause for a celebration of simplicity. Melissa Pasanen and Rick Gecarelli do great justice to the namesake farm in the recently-published "Cooking with Shelburne Farms."
This is not the familiar vinyl-covered, spiral bound community cook book we have come to expect. Not there is anything wrong with those collections, but in stark contrast this is an artfully assembled, carefully organized collection of inspired dishes and stories that reflect the best of New England's Champlain Valley . There is history to Shelburne Farms that dates back to at least the 1880s. Pasanen and Gercarelli call upon that rich history throughout the collection in the form of little vignettes, like Following the Milk, that garnish the recipes and introductions to the book's sections. Some of the anecdotes reflect Gencarelli's experiences in the kitchen while others make mention of local suppliers, regional specialties and the manufacture of ingredients around Shelburne Farm.
On my very first visit to Vermont some years ago, my family and I dined at a restaurant just across the street from Shelburne Farms in the Village. I was treated to a chicken dish that was basted with pure Vermont maple syrup, while the kids feasted on Macaroni and Shelburne Farms cheddar cheese. The restaurant has since closed, but my affinity for the food of the region has remained well intact. "Cooking with Shelburne Farms" caters to that affinity by brining the flavors of the Green Mountain state to my---indeed to anyone's--- table. Pasanen and Gercarelli offer recipes that reflect the simplicity of well prepared food without pretension, interesting stories of the area, and plain-folk insights that really do- transport you right to the heart of Vermont country cooking. There are some vague references in the General Guidelines (no differentiation between Extra Virgin and regular olive oil, for instance, or no specification of the type of maple syrup to use), but that is quibbling about little more than a nuance around which any cook-in-the know can work.
On the other hand, these recipes can easily fit into your own permanent repertory. For example, I had the need to use the Inn at Shelburne Farms Maple-Ginger Vinaigrette for some late-fall catering. Well, it turned out to be the dressing for the remainder of the busy catering season.
"Cooking with Shelburne Farms" is a dynamite collection. I measure the effectiveness of a cookbook on two distinct yet equally important facets the usefulness of the information presented and the value of the recipes contained therein. If the book is well conceived but is too outlandish, I will not use it. And, conversely, if it contains good recipes but fails to further enlighten me, I will not return to it. In the case of "Cooking with Shelburne Farms" I have struck pay-dirt. The recipes are well conceived and the intellectual value of the diatribes holds my interest long after we have sopped up the remainders of the Chanterelles, Corn and Goat Cheese with Tagliatelle.