MILBRIDGE — When Ora Aselton taught the first in a series of “Harvest Table Cooking Classes” in July, the plan had been to show folks how to use an overabundance of fresh tomatoes in the garden.
Trouble was there were no tomatoes. By the time warm weather had arrived in June, garden growth had already fallen behind. So, the Milbridge resident used store-bought tomatoes for the free class she gave through the Women’s Health Resource Library. Though not quite the same as garden-fresh tomatoes, they were enough to successfully teach students how to make her No-Cook End of Summer Sauce.
“This is probably the time of year to offer it, when you have a garden full and you can’t keep up with them,” she said as she prepared the dish in her Milbridge home last week.
The Harvest Table Cooking Classes are new this year, the library’s latest offering designed to encourage healthy eating and conversations about food. Founded in 2005 by nurse practitioner Chris Kuhni, WHRL’s mission is to “advance and promote the health and well-being of the woman, her family and her community,” according to its website, whrl.org.
“Initially intended as a health lending library, the activities quickly morphed to include a community-driven agenda, prioritizing community needs,” the site continues.
“It’s become much more than a library,” affirmed Aselton, who serves as recording secretary for the 12-member working board. They get the job done with the assistance of about 50 volunteers.
One of WHRL’s recent accomplishments is the establishment of Incredible Edible Milbridge in 2013. Several gardens are located throughout Milbridge and their produce is free for the picking. The gardens have been a big success but some people have found themselves unsure of what to do with the food, which tends to ripen all at once. Cooking classes seemed like a logical next step.
On July 20, Aselton taught the very first class in the new series. The classes continue to be offered once a month and will run through March with no class in December. A different cook takes the helm for each one, with topics covering everything from soup and salad to pancakes.
Aselton said she cooks with ingredients from her own vegetable and herb garden.
“I love having a garden. I absolutely love it,” she said “Pick it and just five minutes later it’s on your plate.”
As many gardeners know, a bountiful harvest is not always easy. Last year, deer ate everything Aselton tried to grow. Now the garden is surrounded by a fence that she jokingly said makes it look like a prison yard. With the deer kept at bay, she can, literally, pick and choose fresh ingredients for her meals. The no-cook sauce is made with freshly picked tomatoes, garlic and basil. You can use dried basil in the recipe, she said, but the aroma of the fresh herb adds to the dish’s appeal.
The best part about the sauce is its simplicity, Aselton said.
“Honestly, it took me longer to type these directions than it will take you to make this super simple no-cook sauce,” reads the last line in her recipe.
This sauce is much easier than making sauce the traditional way, which Aselton has done.
“It was delicious but it took all day and it heated the whole house,” she said.
The no-cook sauce won’t add to heat in the kitchen. To make it a meal, the only cooking required is the pasta. To bring out its flavor, she recommends adding enough salt that the cooking water tastes like sea water.
The no-cook sauce recipe Aselton uses is her own adaptation of two different recipes she got from her youngest sister and a lifelong friend.
“It was a combination of the two,” she said. The main variation is the addition of olives and pine nuts. If you’re serving someone who doesn’t like either of these, though, you can offer them on the side.
Not everything from the garden is ready instantly. Onions must dry for a few weeks, said Aselton, who has racks of them in her garage. Once dry, she will remove the plant stems and bag them for use all winter.
Aselton’s garage also is home to a bag holding this year’s harvest of garlic. She has set aside a few of the bulbs to plant later this fall for next year, she said, adding the great thing about garlic is each clove will grow a new plant.
In addition to cooking, Aselton enjoys art.
“[Art] is part of what I do and how I think,” said Aselton, who taught the subject at Narraguagus Junior/Senior High School for 24 years, retiring in 2008. Since then, she has enjoyed being able to devote time to personal art projects. In fact, she was among the artists to decorate eight-foot tall wooden lighthouses for a Gateway Milbridge community art project and fundraiser this past summer.
She also enjoys writing and contributing recipes to different publications.
“I love cooking,” she said. “It’s a real pleasure.”
The Women’s Health Resource Library’s “Harvest Table Cooking Classes” are free but space is limited, so pre-registration is required. To sign up, call 546-7677 or visit whrl.org.