BROOKLIN — James Beard Award-winning cookbook author Cynthia Graubart wants every family to gather around the table to enjoy a simple, delicious meal.
Those meals should also be easy and possible to prepare in the smallest of spaces using basic appliances, the Southern Living magazine contributor said.
To that end, the author of the recently released “Blueberry Love” and “Strawberry Love” (Workman Publishing, 2021) has done the recipe testing for all of her 12 cookbooks in the kitchenette of a seasonal residence overlooking Eggemoggin Reach in Brooklin.
“I’ve tested every one of my books here,” said Graubart. Recipe testing in a kitchenette with a small stove and basic cookware is key. “That’s how I know I make a recipe anyone can make,” she said. Graubart says she tells her fellow cookbook authors, “If you’ve got a 15,000 BTU burner you’re using and copper-lined fancy cookware, it’s wonderful. But that’s not how most people cook. I think it’s important to know who your audience is and how you’re serving them. I want people to feel successful in the kitchen.”
“In all my books, what I care about most is people spending time together at the table,” said Graubart. “I want people to get in there and make a meal that’s low stress. That premise guides all my work.”
Graubart is serving up berry cookbooks this summer.
“It’s a dive into one subject — one focus — I thoroughly enjoy doing that,” she said. Graubart dove into chicken as a one-subject book as well as “Southern Biscuits.”
Plus, as the title suggests, Graubart who has two grown children with her husband Cliff, has a respect and love for blueberries and the fields in which they grow.
“My children would pick blueberries on Caterpillar Hill so blueberries were always the mark of our summers,” she said. “We would make muffins and I would always make blueberry pies and we would make blueberry ice cream.”
“I love the pop,” she said, of Maine’s famed wild fruit. “I love the texture. I love the taste. I think per square millimeter, there’s more taste in a blueberry than any other fruit. And it’s so versatile to cook with sweet and savory dishes. The wild Maine blueberry, I love its history. That’s a scrappy plant to survive the winters and be thousands of years old.”
Both “Blueberry Love” and “Strawberry Love” are available at Leaf & Anna in Brooklin as well as at independent booksellers.
Incidentally, a recipe for Graubart’s Blue Ribbon Ginger Lime Wild Maine Blueberry Pie, which took first prize at the 2019 Blue Hill Fair, is included in the book. Don’t let the ginger and lime scare you away, it’s just a teaspoon of ground ginger and the zest of one lime in one traditional blueberry pie.
The author also won a blue ribbon for her blueberry jam deep in the heart of blueberry country at the Machias Wild Blueberry Festival in 2019.
The Atlantan also includes a recipe for blueberry martinis with homemade blueberry vodka — a nod to the cocktails Butch Smith serves at the Lookout Inn in Brooklin.
After infusing the vodka, save the blueberries to make a batch of Graubart’s No-Waste Blueberry Butter.
Graubart was finishing the berry books, which feature vivid photos of every recipe, during the pandemic. Joe Keller, a Boston-based food photographer, did all the shooting without the author’s eye.
“They had to shoot it without me,” she said. “It was just the photographer and the stylist. He was grateful because there was no work.”
Graubart had photographed all the dishes during recipe testing so the photographer had an idea of how the dishes should look.
These books contain recipes friendly for anyone no matter the cooking experience.
Brooklin boutique Leaf & Anna hosted a signing this summer. Two of the business owner Anne Dentino’s employees, Shiloh Eaton and Ella Rapp, made recipes from the books to serve at the event. Eaton said the recipes were simple to make and had ingredients that were easily found.
The Atlantan never intended a culinary career. Elaborate meals weren’t a part of growing up.
“My mom was a women’s libber,” Graubart said. “She never met a can of soup casserole she didn’t adore.”
When the author and her sister were children, their mother would pull out a pound of ground beef to defrost. She told them that if they didn’t want meatloaf for dinner, they’d “better turn it into something.”
Graubart’s grandmother, however, was a bridge player and thus adept at every kind of finger sandwich imaginable.
“It wasn’t until I went off to college that I discovered new things and started eating new things,” she said.
The Jacksonville, Fla. native who attended ten schools in 12 years because of family moves, has undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism.
In the 1980s, she went into broadcasting and eventually landed a job as a TV producer for Southern cooking queen Nathalie Dupree. Dupree, who resides in Charleston, S.C., has hosted more than 300 television shows and specials on PBS, The Learning Channel and The Food Network.
“We hit it off,” Graubart said. “I learned so much.”
The cookbook author said she’d always assumed that cooks were just born that way. It wasn’t until she met Dupree that she realized “you didn’t have to be born a cook, you could learn.”
To date, they have collaborated on multiple cookbooks and are still fast friends. They won a James Beard Award in 2013 for their book, “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking.”
They ended up creating a cookbook, “Southern Biscuits,” from all the work on “Mastering.”
“We had written 39 recipes for biscuits,” Graubart explained. “I said it would be a nice calling card” to turn that chapter into a stand-alone book.
“The publisher was reluctant,” she recalled. “Little did I know when Nathalie recruited me, she was already behind.”
But, “Southern Biscuits” was born and it, too, was a hit.
“We sold a ton of “Southern Biscuits” as ebooks, which surprised us,” Graubart said. People were downloading the cookbook to Kindles and iPads for access on vacations.
The pair would go on to write “Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetables.”
Working on the 700+ page “Southern” inspired Graubart to follow that project up with two more cookbooks.
“I would work all day long,” she said. “My kids were grown. I was doing very little cooking,” she said. So, first came “Slow Cooking for Two,” which was followed by “Slow Cooker Double Dinners for Two.” The latter taught people how to line a slow cooker with two liner bags to create two different meals at the same time.
Graubart also wrote a cookbook when her son was small called “The One-Armed Cook.” Those were the days when she was trying to get meals on the table with a baby on her hip.
Graubart is currently writing a history of community cookbooks from Georgia.
“I have a massive collection,” she said. Her shelves hold 400 community cookbooks — church cookbooks, junior league cookbooks and the like. It helps that her husband of 34 years is an antiquarian book dealer. Cliff Graubart has operated the Old New York Book Shop since 1971. He now runs the business from their home in Atlanta, Ga.
Graubart is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, the International Association of Culinary Professionals and is also a 2017 MFK Fisher Award winner.
Autographed copies of Cynthia Graubart’s latest cookbooks are available at Leaf & Anna in Brooklin. To learn more about the author or sign up to receive a monthly recipe go to cynthiagraubart.com.
Homemade Blueberry Vodka
Makes one 750-ml bottle
4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
½ cup sugar
2 Tbsps. water
1 750-ml bottle of vodka (about three cups)
Plan to infuse the vodka for five days for the most flavorful result.
Cook the blueberries, sugar, and water in a small saucepan over medium heat until the blueberries are soft and release their juices for 8 to 10 minutes, set aside to cool.
Combine the blueberry mixture and vodka in a non-reactive bowl and cover loosely. Let stand at room temperature for four hours.
Cover and refrigerate for five days or until the vodka has been infused with blueberry flavor.
Strain out the solids by pouring the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth into a glass jar or decanter.
Gently press on the solids to extract a little more juice but avoid squeezing as that releases more sediment.
Reserve the solids to make a batch of blueberry butter or discard.
Blueberry vodka keeps three months in the refrigerator or for six months in an airtight container in the freezer.