Since I write so much about food and farming for the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section, it only made sense that I should take “New England Farmgirl” home with me for recipe testing.

The book has a pretty cover: gingham-style apron clad person clasping a bowl of Concord grapes. But I admit to being suspicious of it from the get-go. New England feels far too generic a grouping; if you live in a New England state, it’s hard to think of them all lumped together as one. And frankly, I don’t give a damn about Connecticut’s lobster stew.

Generic turned out to be the right term for the writing as well. Author Jessica Robinson grew up on a small farm in Connecticut, which included a sugarhouse, but she doesn’t share much about the texture of that life except the cheerily banal. (Sample sentences from one page: “Breadmaking runs in my family.… We love to bake at home.… For those of you who might not have time to bake, there are plenty of fabulous New England bakeries to choose from.” Of the last, may I gently point out if you don’t have time to bake, why read about it?)

The book is arranged in random-seeming chapters. “A Fruitful Harvest” follows “New England’s Bounty.” The second recipe in the book is for iced tea-lemonade, a quarter step removed from a recipe on how to brew tea, information easily obtainable on a box. Of tea. Robinson lives in North Carolina, where I suspect they make their “half and half” in exactly the same manner, although maybe with more sugar. Nothing feels particularly revelatory or special about these recipes.

I made her homemade pizza dough on the grounds that if New England as a whole has one distinct food feature, it is the thick, heavy, dreary pizza crust, likely developed in the 1960s in small-town convenience stores and persisting today, despite the growing number of wood-fired oven specialty pizzas in more urban areas. This pizza was a better version of that and it was easy as … well, pie, but not wildly exciting.

Maybe it’s fitting, given Robinson’s North Carolina location, that the best recipe I tested was Sweet & Tangy Apple Cider Barbecue Sauce. (Right next to the recipe for Yellow Cake with Mixed Berry Jam. Why? They share only one ingredient: granulated sugar.) The sauce has a nice hit of spice from cayenne and smoked paprika, as well as the depth of molasses – and I appreciated that it was made from ingredients available in my cupboards or fridge pretty much all the time.

Robinson has two blogs, and also at Farmhouses + farmgirls = farmfads, as far as I’m concerned, and that’s the kind of book this is. Nice to put out on the coffee table in your guest cottage in Camden or bedside for the Airbnbers, but not what a serious Maine cook needs.



I tripled the amount of salt called for, but I am a saltaholic.

Makes 3 cups

1/2 cup tomato paste

3/4 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup apple cider

1/2 cup molasses

2/3 granulated sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup honey

1 tablespoon granulated onion

1 tablespoon ground mustard powder

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

In a medium pot over medium heat, whisk the tomato paste, vinegar and cider. Add the molasses, both sugars, honey, granulated onion, mustard powder, paprika, salt, pepper and cayenne. Whisk and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until desired thickness is achieved, about 10 minutes (the sauce will continue to thicken in the refrigerator), stirring occasionally.

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