Chef and Author Annemarie Ahearn introduces her newest cookbook, Modern Country Cooking, and reflects on how book clubs can join the global embrace of home cooking. Modern County Cooking is published by Roost Books and photographed by Kristin Teig.
Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, my family used to load up the Volvo station wagon each summer and drive all the way to our family blueberry Farm in Dresden, Maine to pick berries with our cousins. We began to explore the coast and in 1999 my folks bought a 25-acre sheep farm that overlooks the Penobscot Bay. (There is a more elaborate retelling of this story in my first cookbook, Full Moon Suppers at Salt Water Farm.) At the time, I was living in New York City and finishing culinary school, after which I moved to Barcelona to work at a little cooking school for home cooks, called Cook and Taste. It was across from La Boqueria, one of the most beautiful open-air food markets in the world and after we visited vendors to procure ingredients for the day’s class, we would go back to the kitchen and make traditional Catalan Cuisine. I fell in love with the model and set out to build a similar cooking school on the coast of Maine with a vegetable and herb garden to pull ingredients from. My parents had built an antique post and beam barn in an open field on the property and after a little convincing, agreed to outfit the ground floor with a kitchen for entertaining and teaching “the occasional cooking class”. Well, it turned out to be a much bigger business than any of us had anticipated with a curriculum of 80 classes from May through October and an annual enrollment of over 500 students from across the globe.
After publishing my first book, which focused on entertaining large groups, I wanted to write a second book that embraced the mission of the cooking school: Cooking instinctively and resourcefully, acquiring a set of country cooking skills and having a light heart in the kitchen. The front end of the Modern Country Cooking is a manifesto of sorts, a coming together of all of the cooking instruction we’ve offered students over the years. It’s followed by a portrait of each month in Maine and recipes that suit the season. The process of writing this book was a dream for the following reason: I wrote each chapter in the actual month that is being portrayed. For example, I would sit down in a comfy armchair beside the woodstove in January while watching the snow fall onto the frozen ground and begin to write as if making a daily diary entry. It felt so authentic to write in that fashion. My photographer, Kristin, was able to make a number of trips to Maine so that we could shoot in the spring, summer, fall and winter enabling us to use gorgeous ingredients from the farm and never having to “fake” an image. (Many cookbooks are shot in a chaotic and rushed week or even a few days.)
When COVID 19 began to change the course of the country, my publisher and I considered delaying the pub date of the book to the fall, but ultimately stayed the course and the book was released on April 21st. As it turns out, there is no better time to embrace home cooking than the present. People across the United States and beyond are cooking at home more than ever and looking to broaden their repertoires. I hope that Modern Country Cookingis a useful tool for all home cooks looking to deepen their knowledge of kitchen fundamentals. You can purchase a personalized and signed copy of Modern Country Cooking through our website.
My first book, Full Moon Suppers at Salt Water Farm, spurred many community cookbook clubs, encouraging its readers to tackle a multicourse meal on the night of each full moon. People would routinely send me imagery of each of the dishes that make up the menus for the Full Moon Suppers and exclaim, “We did it! We made the whole meal!”
Modern Country Cooking offers cookbook and traditional book clubs a more approachable challenge, mastering the basics of home cooking, one recipe at a time. Book clubs that used to discuss literature over a shared meal are now turning to virtual meeting platforms. Cookbooks (like Modern Country Cooking) offer a way to unite tradition with the current situation. Over the course of the next several months, I will be offering a weekly Instagram Live session, demonstrating some of these skills through the execution of seasonal recipes from the book – perfect for your book club! And beginning the week of May 4th, we will be hosting weekly live Zoom cooking classes –registration will be available through our website, www.saltwaterfarm.com.
Finally, we have a growing members club, which provides early access to our cooking classes at Salt Water Farm (they sell out quickly), discounts for our online Zoom classes, and a monthly correspondence from the farm with seasonal recipes and suggested culinary reading. I hope you and your book club members can become a part of the Salt Water Farm community