The Quilter's Kitchen (Elm Creek Quilts Novels)

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9781410408198: The Quilter's Kitchen (Elm Creek Quilts Novels)

Anna Del Maso had known that she wanted to be a chef since she was in the seventh grade. "Somehow everything in my life ends up being about food," she realizes, as she begins the latest of her food-themed quilts. Her twin passions have converged in a brand-new position as head chef for Elm Creek Quilts, Waterford, Pennsylvania's popular quilting retreat.

As she joins the circle of quilters at historic Elm Creek Manor, Anna is eager to preserve the manor's culinary heritage, dating to 1858, while also celebrating the new favorites of their many guests. Yet as Master Quilter Sylvia Bergstrom Compson well knows, the manor's kitchen, last updated in the 1940s, can't create food that compares to the state-of-the-art quilting instruction for which Elm Creek Quilts is renowned.

A full renovation of the kitchen must be completed by the start of the new camp season. Though the task is daunting, Anna is assured in her belief that "A kitchen is the heart of a home." As she and Sylvia begin to dismantle the old to make way for the new, Sylvia's reminiscences remind them both of just how many of the manor's traditions have involved food and celebrations. Whether the feast is one of the holiday menus prepared and enjoyed by generations of Bergstroms, or one of the Welcome Banquets and Farewell Breakfasts that have become hallmarks of Elm Creek Quilt Camp, there is a story for every recipe, and a recipe for every story.

The Quilter's Kitchen follows Anna's flavorful explorations of the kitchens of Elm Creek Manor, past and present. As she records beloved recipes and creates original dishes seasoned with love, she discovers anew how the gifts of the table gather friends and family ever closer.

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About the Author:

Jennifer Chiaverini is the author of the New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series, five collections of quilt projects, and several historical fiction novels. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and sons in Madison, Wisconsin. To learn more, visit JenniferChiaverini.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One
Welcome Banquet

As Jeremy turned the car off the main highway from Waterford and onto the narrow gravel road that wound through the leafy wood encircling the Bergstrom estate, Anna instinctively clutched her seat cushion with one hand and braced herself against the dashboard with the other. "Maybe when we're finished remodeling the kitchen," she said, voice shaking with each bump and jolt, "we can convince Sylvia to do something about this road."

Jeremy kept his eyes on the winding way that led into the forest; if a car approached from the opposite direction, he would have to react quickly and pull halfway off the road to avoid a collision. Both sides of his car were already marked with fine scratches from past diversions into the underbrush. "I doubt it," he replied, his wire-rimmed glasses sliding down his nose a millimeter or two with every pothole. "Sylvia's a traditionalist. The longer you know her, the more you'll realize that she's reluctant to alter the old family estate too much."

"She's letting me make big changes to the kitchen," Anna reminded him.

Jeremy shrugged and offered her his familiar cheerful, crooked grin. "Only because she didn't think you'd take the job otherwise."

As much as Anna was thrilled with her new position as Elm Creek Manor's chef, she had to admit that Sylvia had guessed correctly. She would never forget her first glimpse of the kitchen when she had come to the manor for her job interview. It was larger than she expected to find in a building constructed in 1858, but there was not a single appliance post-1945 except for a tiny microwave on the counter, possibly the first ever invented by the look of it. The pantry was spacious and well stocked, but poorly lit and so badly organized that it would have taken Anna longer to find ingredients for one of her signature dishes than to mix them together. And as for the cooking utensils left to soak in the sink...The whisk looked to be at least fifty years old, which wouldn't have bothered her had it not been bent out of shape, and the hand mixer had rust, actual rust, on the handle. How the Elm Creek Quilters had managed to feed fifty-plus people three meals a day with that four-burner gas stove was a mystery, but Anna knew that she couldn't work in such conditions, not after being spoiled by the sparkling clean, modern facilities at Waterford College. Fortunately Sylvia had agreed that the kitchen was long overdue for an upgrade, and she had accepted Anna's condition for taking the job.

Now that Elm Creek Quilt Camp had ended for the season, Sylvia and Anna would launch the remodeling process in earnest. With weeks of planning and hours of consultation behind them, in two days they would usher in a team of workmen to tear out old cupboards and haul away dilapidated appliances, to demolish the wall between the kitchen and the west sitting room, to install new wiring, lighting, shelving, appliances, and everything else Anna desired and Sylvia's budget would allow. If all went well, Anna would have a fully operational, professional kitchen in time for the holiday feasts she intended to prepare for her new colleagues.

She hoped, in time, that they would become her friends.

Late-morning sunlight broke through the leafy wood, gold and rust and scarlet with autumn, as the road forked, wound through the trees, and emerged beside a sunlit apple orchard. They passed a red barn, climbed a low hill, and crossed the bridge over Elm Creek. All at once the manor came into view -- three stories of gray stone and dark wood surrounded by autumnal beauty.

Anna knew the Elm Creek Quilters considered the grand manor a second home. She was an Elm Creek Quilter now, too, she reminded herself. Perhaps in time Elm Creek Manor would become as important to her as it was to her new coworkers.

On the other side of the creek, the road broadened into a parking lot that circled two towering elms. "Call me when you want me to pick you up," Jeremy offered as he parked near the foot of the back stairs.

"I can take the bus," Anna said. She couldn't help feeling as if she were imposing on his generosity. It was one thing for him to drive her to work when his girlfriend, Summer, had lived at the manor, but now that Summer was attending graduate school in Chicago, Jeremy had no reason to come so far out of his way. Anna and Jeremy were friends and neighbors, with apartments on opposite sides of the hall in a building not far from the Waterford College campus, but these almost daily drives were a lot to ask even of a friend. But every time Anna mentioned the bus, Jeremy shook his head and drove her anyway. Anna suspected that Summer had asked him to bring her since she was new, to help her feel less like an outsider. Or maybe the Elm Creek Quilters were afraid that she would grow tired of the long walk from the bus stop, and they had enlisted Jeremy's help to make sure she didn't wear out her shoes. Or maybe Jeremy was just a nice guy and she was taking advantage of him.

Whatever the reason, and despite the occasional pang of guilt, secretly Anna was glad that their carpooling had not ended with Summer's departure. The bus's circuitous route would have added two hours to her daily commute, and she would have missed Jeremy's company.

"I'll have my cell on," Jeremy said, as if she had not mentioned the bus this time, either. Surely Summer had asked him to babysit her. That had to be it.

Anna returned Jeremy's grin, waved good-bye, and climbed the four stone steps to the back door of Elm Creek Manor. The kitchen was through the first doorway on the left, and from within came the sound of someone clattering pots and pans and what sounded like cookie sheets.

Anna hung her jacket in the hall closet and entered the kitchen, which already seemed strangely bare with the long wooden table and the benches that usually flanked it missing. Clad in a burgundy cardigan and black slacks, her silver-gray hair held back in a tortoise-shell comb, Sylvia Bergstrom Compson, Master Quilter and founder of Elm Creek Quilts, sat cross-legged on the floor, transferring skillets and saucepans into a carton. She glanced up and smiled, feathery lines etched around her eyes and mouth deepening, but the fondness in her expression did not lessen her air of command, as if she were a woman who was accustomed to voicing her opinions and having others carefully listen.

"Matt and Andrew moved the table and benches into the dining room, out of the way," Sylvia said, answering Anna's unspoken question. Brushing dust from her hands, she rose, far more slender than Anna and nearly as tall, with only the slightest stoop to her shoulders. A pair of glasses hung around her neck on a silver chain. "I haven't decided what to do with them yet. They'll seem out of place in our new kitchen, and yet they've been in the family so long I can't bear to get rid of them."

"I'm sure we can find a place for them somewhere," said Anna. "We don't have to get rid of everything, not if it's useful or has sentimental value.""

You're thinking just like my Bergstrom ancestors," said Sylvia dryly. "Remind me to show you the attic someday. No, we can't keep everything. That's the whole point of our work today, isn't it, to clear out the old and make way for the new?"

Anna hesitated. "I thought we were just going to pack up the dishes and cookware and move everything out of the way before the contractor demolishes the cabinets. I assumed we'd put everything back afterward."

"And spoil your lovely new kitchen with rusty old pots and pans?" Sylvia shook her head. "Out of the question."

"Sometimes old pots cook better than new," said Anna, thinking of the cast-iron cookware she had long admired. She was itching to cook up a ratatouille in the Dutch oven that had belonged to Sylvia's great-aunt. "Let's not discard things arbitrarily just because they clash with the paint and granite."

Sylvia smiled, amused by Anna's reference to their many contentious debates with their contractor's designer, who held strong opinions about the merits of particular color combinations. "Agreed. If I want to toss something out but you want to keep it, I'll let you have the last word. This kitchen will be your workspace, after all."

"But it's more than that," Anna said. "A kitchen is the heart of a home. Think of how much time the Elm Creek Quilters spend in this room, discussing quilt patterns and lesson plans over coffee and cake. Your guests, too. In the few weeks I've been here, I've noticed that time and time again, quilt campers find their way to the kitchen."

"They follow their noses," Sylvia said. "More so than ever since you came on board."

"It's also the first room campers pass when they come through the back door," Anna added, "and except for registration morning, that's the door they use most frequently."

Sylvia nodded, thoughtful. "It never occurred to me, but perhaps the kitchen is just as important as the front foyer is for offering our guests a warm welcome to the manor."

In Anna's opinion, the kitchen played that role in every home. "We could always move the registration tables in here," she joked as she knelt beside a lower cabinet. Inside she found cake pans of all shapes and sizes, definitely worth keeping. She pulled over an empty carton and carefully stacked the pans within it.

"Even after we knock out the wall and expand into the sitting room, we won't have enough space for that," said Sylvia. "Our campers will have to wait until the Welcome Banquet to get an official greeting from your kitchen."

The Welcome Banquet: the eagerly anticipated commencement of each new week of camp. The banquet hall, transformed by white linen tablecloths, crystal, and candlelight, set the proper festive tone for the days ahead, a week devoted to learning, sharing, and enjoying a respite from the cares of ordinary life. Anna had prepared the delicious feast for the last few weeks of the camp season, and she had been delighted by the campers' rave reviews -- not to mention those of the Elm Creek Quilters. She was pleased to know that she played such an important role i...

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