The focus is on fresh, local food, and Shelburne Farms does it beautifully. The working farm, which started out as a model agricultural estate built by Dr. William Seward Webb and Eliza Vanderbilt Webb in 1886, is a National Historic Landmark and environmental education center. They raise a herd of Brown Swiss dairy cows for making award-winning cheeses, a flock of English sheep for sheering and eating, and they have a sugarhouse for making their own maple syrup for use at the Inn. In keeping with their educational goals, they offer programs for children and adults designed to teach about the workings of the natural world and sustainable agriculture.
Recently Shelburne Farms released a new cookbook, Cooking with Shelburne Farms: Food and Stories from Vermont, and in an interesting twist, co-authors Melissa Pasanen and Rick Gencarelli structured the cookbook in a way that highlights the local agriculture of Vermont rather than focusing on meal courses. Chapters focus on Savory Milk and Cheese, Savory Maple, Early Spring and Summer Greens, Lamb, Wild Mushrooms, Game and Fish, Pork, Root-Cellar Vegetables, Apples, Sweet Milk, and Sweet Maple, and all of these ingredients are available either on the farm or locally. Each chapter has a story or two about local food production that gives the reader a sense of Vermont agriculture. For example, in “Listening to the Land,” the reader learns about wildcrafters Les Hook and Nova Kim, who seek out wild mushrooms and edible and medicinal plants and have done so for 27 years.
The very first recipe is for churned butter, and I waxed nostalgic with childhood memories of my family churning butter. We lived near an Amish community in Missouri in the late 1970s, and my father would bring home gallons of fresh, unpasteurized milk with a heavy cream layer floating on top. We put the cream into an old glass butter churn with a hand crank on top and then turned the crank. My mother took the fresh butter and molded it in an old-fashioned wooden butter mold, then wrapped it up and froze it. There’s just nothing like the taste of fresh, sweet butter, and as soon as I read the recipe from Shelburne Farms, I felt inspired to start making my own butter again, that is if I can find a local dairy provider. I’m still looking.
As for the rest of the book, we have thoroughly enjoyed the recipes we have tried so far, including Oven-Roasted Applesauce and Apple Butter, Maple and Black Pepper Chicken, and Ale-Braised Kielbasa with Sauerkraut. The Maple and Black Pepper Chicken was a cinch to make, with a delicious pan sauce that mixes sweet and savory flavors. It was easy enough for a weeknight, yet elegant enough for our anniversary dinner. The kielbasa dish was also easy and perfect for an October night, and I loved the aroma of the cider and beer reducing with the onions, garlic, and rosemary. I have flagged over 50 recipes to try, including:
- Tomato-Cheddar Soup
- Mushroom and Root Vegetable Potpie
- Scalloped Potatoes with Mushrooms and Canadian Bacon
- Duck Breast with Tart Apples and Hard Cider
- Juniper and Maple Venison Steaks
- Roasted Cauliflower with Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts
- Roasted Apple Plum Parfaits
- Apple-Rhubarb Chutney
- Maple-Cream Cheese Pound Cake
All the recipes and stories in this cookbook makes me want to live on a farm, or at least near one or two so that I can have fresh everything every day. At the very least I will have to visit Shelburne Farms sometime so that I can take in the whole experience.