Already dreaming of your next trip? So are we. Which is why we’re starting a new column dedicated to cookbooks that will inspire your next trip. If you’re stuck at home, you may as well satiate your appetite for travel by diving into a new type of cuisine. Each week, we’ll choose a cookbook that features a culinary destination or culture, highlighting five of our favorite recipes for you to try at home. This week: a peek into the life of a small-town Maine chef who cooks up award-winning food all year long.
Cookbook addicts know that a good cookbook isn’t just about food. In addition to delicious recipes, the best cookbooks tell a story. The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine by Erin French (also available on Amazon) does just that — it’s the kind of cookbook you actually want to sit down and read.
I happened to receive The Lost Kitchen as a gift for Christmas a few years ago. That year we celebrated the holidays at a lake house in Maine, and on Christmas Day, I curled up by the fire to read this cherished gift from cover to cover. In addition to being a talented chef and James Beard semifinalist, Erin French is also a beautiful writer. When I finally came up for air, I’d fallen in love with this book and I hadn’t yet cooked a thing.
Recipes and a Good Life Found
Besides featuring an abundance of gorgeous photos and farm-fresh recipes, The Lost Kitchen also doubles as an autobiographical piece. Throughout the book, French reveals anecdotes about her life that range from hilarious (accidentally harvesting poison ivy as a centerpiece) to heartbreaking (her first business failing after a difficult divorce). Ultimately, it’s a story of perseverance, as French is a self-taught cook who, after creating a supper club in her own home, went on to open a world-renowned restaurant in a renovated mill.
French’s food is without pretension, instead choosing to celebrate Maine’s seasonal bounty — a trait that goes hand-in-hand with living in a region that recognizes the tradition of small, organic farming. The result is a book filled with detailed information on how to shuck oysters, forage plants, eat lobsters, buy shellfish, make DIY cleaner, and most importantly, cook good food.
Living and Cooking with the Seasons
What I love most about this cookbook, which moves through its recipes seasonally, is that it accurately depicts the life of a year-round Maine resident. I’ve only lived in Maine for five years, and while I could never call myself a true Mainer — I’m “from away,” as they say — in these pages, I’ve recognized a life somewhat similar to my own.
That’s because, here in Maine, we know how to live with seasons — all four of them. We work hard in the summer and try to get some rest in the winter. We plant garlic in the fall, we forage in the spring, and we go to the Common Ground Country Fair every year. We enjoy an abundance of seafood and produce year-round, we know how to shuck oysters, and we heat our homes with wood-fired stoves.
This Maine lifestyle comes alive throughout The Lost Kitchen’s words, photos, and the following five recipes, which I implore you to try.
Macerated Shallot Vinaigrette
Another title for this recipe could be, “Easiest, most delicious, vinaigrette ever.” French’s technique for macerating shallots is used throughout the book, from the potato salad to the oyster mignonette. In truth, making your own salad dressing has never been so easy. Mince a shallot, let it macerate in seasoned rice vinegar for 20 minutes, and then add olive oil. The end result is perfection, finding the right balance between sweet and salty to dress your favorite greens.
Spring Bread Salad
This springtime salad celebrates the beginning of the growing season at its best. I love this recipe because the timing always works out perfectly. Whenever the peas are shooting up in my garden, the radishes are also ready to harvest. Add in some asparagus from the store, homemade croutons, and the aforementioned vinaigrette, and you’ll be delighted by the flavors of spring.
Summer: A Classic Clam Boil
“Summer is meant for lazy days, not sweating over hosting a party for friends and family.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Here in Maine, our summers are short but oh-so-sweet, and it is not the time of year to be slaving over a stove. That’s why French’s recipe for a classic clam boil, which requires bivalves, hot dogs, and farm-fresh corn being tossed in a lobster pot with some seawater, is an all-time fave for hosting in the summer.
Fall: Waldorf Salad
Despite the fact that I still have not mastered homemade mayonnaise (psst — I just use Hellman’s), French’s recipe for Waldorf Salad is one of my favorites. I like to make it for Thanksgiving, and it’s always a hit. However, one stipulation for this recipe is finding and using the best produce available. (Read: get good apples.) With fresh ingredients, the result is a bright, bitter, and sweet salad that hits all the right notes and provides the perfect amount of crunch.
Winter: Dad’s Meatloaf
Meatloaf is one of my go-to comfort foods, thanks in part to my dad cooking it on Sundays throughout my childhood. French’s meatloaf, which is also inspired by her own father, beats out the recipe from my youth. (Sorry, Dad!) There’s something about the meatloaf’s mixture — shallots, carrots, chunks of sourdough bread, and pecorino cheese — that give it the perfect texture. And the glaze, a sweet and salty blend of mustard, ketchup, and brown sugar, is divine. I always make it with mashed potatoes and parsnips for the perfect meal on a cold winter’s eve.
The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine | Bookshop.org | Also available at Amazon