There as many reasons to like “New England Open House Cookbook” by Sarah Leah Chase as there are clams in your chowder.
The author brings respectable expertise to her table. The recipes are often happily traditional but take advantage of locally sourced ingredients and good, new ideas in ways that never feel false or intrusive.
Chase is also a fine writer who produces an engaging and relevant story that sets the context for each recipe. As for the recipes, they are among Chase’s favorite go-to dishes, beloved by family and tweaked over the years.
Chase lived in Connecticut, Nantucket and Cape Cod, and her parents live in coastal Maine. She ran a specialty food shop in Nantucket, collaborated on “The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook,” is recipe consultant to Ina Garten, writes a weekly food column for Nantucket’s Inquirer and Mirror newspaper and teaches classes at Stonewall Kitchen. She was even spokeswoman for Butterball turkeys.
Her own cookbooks include “Nantucket Open House Cookbook” and “Cold-Weather Cooking.” She loves good food, seeks out the best local ingredients such as Vermont cheeses, smokehouse bacon or local sea salts and has years of experience working toward and often finding savory perfection.
New Englanders can use this book every day of every season. If they are serious about food, they might even find themselves seeking out some of the farms, cheese makers and other cookbooks Chase references.
And Chase has hard-won opinions most of us probably agree with. Clam chowder’s creaminess? Yes to cream but no to the sludge-like chowders that often win chowder fest contests. Lobster rolls? Yes to diced celery and mayonnaise and buttered rolls. Kale in a traditional kale soup? Yes, but consider frozen kale or the more tender Tuscan variety. Baked beans? She has two recipes for us to try and one takes almost no time at all.
Chapters feature lobsters, clams and mussels and quahogs, farmstand vegetables, breakfast fare, chowders and stews, salads and some delectable and easy-to-prepare appetizers. Chase writes that she was at a cocktail party at an anglers’ club years ago and she saw that a sleeve of Ritz crackers and an open jar of peanut butter served as the accompaniment to stiff libations. She suggests tantalizing alternatives to the Ritz cracker.
To produce the book, Chase read a number of community cookbooks and came up with variations on the cream cheese-crab spread and hot crabmeat spread, for example. If the recipe doesn’t have a connection to New England, it’s probably not in this cookbook.
The connection can be a friend or neighbor who traveled to California, for instance, and returned with a version of Jeweled Olives with Cranberries and Walnuts that Chase then tweaked.
Food blogs are often popular because they reflect the lively personalities of the bloggers. Chase’s recipes are similar in that she introduces each recipe with a story of the recipe’s provenance. These are not personality-based anecdotes but instead provide value-added information, such as eating kale soup for breakfast because it has staying power to rival oatmeal.
In fact, the Kale Soup introduction is an excellent primer on the soup. We appreciate and savor it, and we know it’s a favorite of our Portuguese neighbors. But Kale Soup is one of those dishes we’ve left to our neighbors and restaurateurs — that is, until we read “New England Open House Cookbook.” Now we know that we can use either linguica or chourico and that frozen, chopped kale is just fine.
Rae Padilla Francoeur’s memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” is available online or in some bookstores. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org Read her blog at freefallrae.blogspot.com or follow her on Twitter @RaeAF.