No dish typifies New England cooking better than baked haddock fillets topped with a white sauce and buttered crumbs.  The flavors are so inimitable and pure.  I like haddock best for this dish but cusk or pollock, though not as flaky, are fine alternatives.  What’s more, these fish, from local waters,  are so economical, running anywhere from $3.99 to 6.99 per pound. In New York at specialty fishmonger, Citarella, they’re priced at $15.99 per pound, termed  “wild caught” in New England waters (most likely Maine).

Season the haddock fillets on both sides before topping with sauce to bake

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Pudding cakes are an alchemy of baking, a luscious dessert that has two layers: a creamy pudding underneath crowned by a sponge cake that rises like a soufflé.

It takes minutes to prepare and the one featured here is a lemon pudding cake.  The batter has just few ingredients: egg yolks, whipped whites, melted butter,  flour, sugar, lemon and milk.  Voila! It puffs up in the baking leaving behind a luscious pudding underneath.

Serve the lemon pudding cake warm or refrigerate and serve chilled with whipped cream

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On the bone –or not–is a choice to make when you buy any of the big cuts of beef, lamb or pork. Generally, I prefer roasts that are on the bone.  They have more flavor and produce richer juices than their de-boned counterparts. The recipe I offer here is for a beef chuck roast on the bone.

Certainly, there are those who, for example, prefer a standing rib roast on the bone (without it how can it stand?).  Conversely, the boneless cut is easier to carve, cooks in less time and is just neater.  If the flavor difference is not crucial, boneless is a doable alternative.

Chuck roast on the bone

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The world of cobblers has many variations: biscuit, pastry or crumble toppings.  Then there’s the batter- dipped cobbler in which a simple batter is prepared and the fruit of choice is added on top.

The batter is put into a baking pan where a good amount of butter has been melted in the oven until both the dish and butter is hot so that when you add the batter it swells up; then you add the fruit and bake.

Peach cobbler

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With our farmers’ markets going full force rippling with tomatoes, corn, berries, fruits and every kind of harvested vegetable able to grow well enough in our climate, I look specifically at what I can use to make this–the quintessential summer cobbler with fruit, berries or a mixture.

Defining what a cobbler is can be tricky business.  In strict culinary parlance, it’s basically stewed fruit topped with a kind of drop-biscuit dough and baked.

Two types of peach cobbler: crunchy (left) and classic


But what also doubles in cobbler-speak are preparations like pandowdy, grunt, slump and sonker, which is a deep-dish pie unique to North Carolina country cooking.

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If there’s one dessert to make with strawberries, it’s this silken strawberry-rich pie with its distinctive addition of cream that lines the bottom of the pastry case before putting in the cooked jam-like strawberry filling.

I found the recipe in the excellent cookbook “The Farm” by Ian Knauer.  The recipes are a mix of the author’s old-family recipes and Knauer’s many years as food editor of Gourmet Magazine.

There are many versions of no-bake strawberry pie.  It generally employs the technique of crushing a portion of the berries and mixing in fresh strawberries enriched with sugar and cornstarch that cook until the mixture is clear and thick.

Cream Cheese Strawberry Pie

For the cream cheese filling (the cream cheese must be at room temperature) I used Casco Bay Butter company’s cream cheese, which is wonderfully rich and creamy.  I haven’t seen it at stores but found it at the Brunswick Farmer’s Market at Crystal Springs.


Strrawberries from Fairwinds Farm

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If there is one essential pair of late-spring early-summer vegetables to pair now it’s new potatoes and summer shelling peas.  I haven’t seen this duo in Portland’s farmers’ markets yet, but I encountered them at Beth’s Farm Market in Warren, the midcoast farm-store behemoth that always seems to be the first with the gems of summer produce.

Beth’s market in Warren–early strawberries, shell peas and new potatoes are plentiful now

At a recent trip there, the peas were just out, still somewhat small but bulging pods with sweet green peas.  Nearby were the basket of new red potatoes and those precious baby carrots that are just being pulled from the ground.

Baby carrots, peas and new potatoes

At the Portland Farmers’ Market today, English peas from Goranson Farm

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Two stars of the spring growing season—asparagus and rhubarb–are in high supply at farmers’ markets. Rhubarb especially is so versatile in sauces and desserts, and  at this time  of year I always start the flow of pies, crisps, cakes and breads where rhubarb is the main ingredient.

Rhubarb cream pie

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What’s often referred to as Old-Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes is a reference that I’ve seen many times in my collection of southern cookbooks.  They never interested me since they seemed like such old-lady cookies, the kind perched on the edge of a cup and saucer of tea. I’m not a tea drinker, though I realize that pairing the cookie with it is more a state of mind than a definitive combination.

Tea cakes

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As a child at the family table, rice was anathema to my foodpreferences.  Yet my mother served it often as the side dish to a main course.  That box of Uncle Ben’s held a prominent place in the cupboard.  But the best I could do was grit my teeth and roll it around my fork soaking up its starchy blandness.  In fact, the only way I would eat it was with a good pour of maple syrup over it, presaging my sweet-tooth proclivities.

Rice grits (photos courtesy of Anson Mills)

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