Connecticut may be one of the smaller states in the union, but when it comes to variety of cuisine, it is a nation onto itself. Although justly famous for its seafood, Connecticut is more than just a beachfront community on the mainland side of Long Island Sound. It is rich farm country dotted with sizable cities in a state whose often harsh winters make warm comfort foods a necessity. Here are three cookbooks that, each in their own way, present what is best and unique about Connecticut cuisine.
“What’s Cooking Connecticut Shoreline?” – Kim Castaldo and Diane Gardner
Building on their previous volume, “What’s Cooking Madison?,” Castaldo and Gardner went beyond the bounds of their little seaside town to collect recipes from people and places up and down the shore “from Greenwich to Stonington,” they boast.
Many of the contributors are year-round residents of the shoreline communities who are happy to share family favorites such as “Great Aunt Ruthie’s O’Henry Bars” or “Nanny’s Stuffed Artichokes.” The authors, however, have also reached out to restaurants, inns and local markets and specialty stores to ask them to share their best appetizers, desserts, entrées and treats. They convinced the Pantry in Fairfield to share its recipe for caramelized-onion dip and coaxed those at Fromage Fine Foods and Coffees of Old Saybrook into revealing the secret to building a special holiday cheese platter.
There are “hearty dinners” and “delicious desserts” aplenty here, along with the “simply seafood” dishes for which tables on the shore are best known. As a personal touch, the authors have included a “Kids in the Kitchen” chapter, where their own children provide step-by-step instructions on making kid-friendly comfort food.
“What’s Cooking Connecticut Shoreline?” retails at $29.95, but is available online and at most brick and mortar Barnes & Nobles in the state (especially those along the shore) for far less (with used copies going for as little as $9.69).
“Food Lovers Guide to Connecticut” – Patricia Brooks and Lester Brooks
Patricia and Lester Brooks are columnists, not cooks, so their “cookbook” is as much about where to find the ingredients for their recipes as it is about mixing them together. The recipes are pure Connecticut, but so are the farms, specialty stores, butchers, patisseries and other places that they tout as the “sources of Connecticut-made comestibles.”
When the Brooks present a recipe, they do not merely list the ingredients, they also tell the cooks where to go to buy them. A dessert calls for Belgian chocolate? Go to Belgique Patisserie & Chocolatier in Kent, midway up Route 7 between Danbury and the Massachusetts Line. A main course needs pork loin? No grocery store meat case will do; no, they will send you to The Egg and I Pork Farm in New Milford (also on Route 7, which to the Brooks couple seems to be the gastronomic highway of the state).
For every recipe, there is a corresponding farm stand, farmers’ market or specialty store that provides just the right ingredient. There are lists of pubs and microbreweries to sample and noted “Landmark Eateries” to visit, as well as a section for those who need to “Learn to Cook.” This is Connecticut cuisine at its most basic, its most regional and its most personal.
The “Food Lovers Guide to Connecticut” is part of the larger “Food Lovers” series. It lists at $14.95 but can be purchased for as little as $5.98 on Amazon. Many of the stores listed in the book also carry copies.
“Connecticut Farmer & Feast: Harvesting Local Bounty” – Emily Brooks
This Miss Brooks has no relation to the New York Times’ food critics who authored “The Food Lovers Guide,” but she does share their passion for the “local bounty” of the Nutmeg State.
Emily Brooks concentrates her cookbook on the produce and tables of 50 of, what she calls, the most “passionate” farmers in the state. Theirs, she says, is a “labor of love,” and this book is all about celebrating those farmers and “the magic they produce from the soil.”
When Ms. Brooks, a chef and founder of the Edibles Advocate Alliance, gives her readers a recipe, she also gives them the name of those who support local agriculture. She does not want her readers to merely eat Connecticut; she wants them to buy Connecticut – and to revel in the richness of its harvest.
“Connecticut Farmer & Feats: Harvesting Local Bounty” retails for $19.95 but is available online and in many Barnes and Nobles stores in Connecticut for $13.43 or less.
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Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience, most notably but not exclusively in the fields of international relations and history specifically military history. His work can be found at Examiner.com.