PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — It was 2007, and Heidi’s Tea Shop on Main Street in Presque Isle was hopping. For several hours every day, owner Heidi Jo Samuel and her small staff were kept busy baking sweets, preparing gourmet meals, and serving strong cups of high-end tea to customers.
“It was busy every day,” Samuel recalled during an interview last week at Northern Maine Community College. “I had some customers that came in every day, and I didn’t always know their names. I would remember them by what they ordered. I’d see their faces and think, ‘There is the blueberry scone man,’ or ‘Here comes the lady who loves the butternut squash soup.’”
In 2008, however, things changed. The economy began to sputter, and the Stockholm resident was involved in a serious car accident. Those circumstances forced her to shut down the tea shop and its dining room of white damask tablecloths, tea-themed wallpaper and collection of quaint teapots. When the doors closed, however, her former customers still retained a desire for her fresh soups and salads, elaborate four- and five-course menus, and elegant desserts.
“After a while, I decided to write a cookbook and give people the food they were used to and use the book as an extension of the tea shop,” Samuel said, running her hands over the crisp, colorful new paperback. “All of the recipes in it are my favorites.”
The 88-page book, “Boutique Gourmet,” was published by Indiana-based Xlibris Corp. and features everything from appetizers and soups and salads to main courses and desserts. There are a few beverage recipes as well. The bright, detailed photographs in the book were taken by Captured By Andretta Jones of Caribou.
Writing the book made Samuel think back to days when she was in the kitchen of her tea shop.
Within a few months of its opening, customers began asking for lunch. The Caribou native quickly whipped up quiches, soups, salads and sandwiches made with organic ingredients whenever possible.
“I was most famous for my soup,” said Samuel, who garnered a culinary education at Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute in South Portland. “It plays a big part in the cookbook. Soup is about comfort. People would call me every day and ask, ‘What is the soup for today? I need soup.’”
Samuel said that her butternut squash soup was the favorite in that category, so she included the recipe prominently in the cookbook.
It didn’t take long after she began offering a lunch menu that people inquired about dinner. She answered their call by whipping up dishes such as Cajun Roasted Salmon and Shrimp, and Mediterranean Chicken with Tomatoes, Spinach, Pine Nuts and Basil Oil.
She also began hosting special ticketed events on Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day in which people could sit down to six- or eight-course dinners. Much of what she served is included in the cookbook, from Beef and Broccoli in Oyster Sauce to Ham Spinach and Swiss Quiche to Chocolate Velvet Pie and Lemon Tarts.
“I put a little introduction before each recipe, where I talk about a particular customer who liked the dish or about a customer the food reminded me of,” she said. “I also wrote the book like I speak. If there is anything technical in there, I explain it out so that someone who doesn’t normally cook can understand it. It took me a good two years to put this together. I wanted all of the pages to be color-coordinated to the pictures of the food included in the book. I wanted it to pop.”
Most of the recipes, she said, are “very easy” to make.
The book was completely self-published, and Samuel worked with Xlibris officials online to put the collection together. She started selling copies approximately four months ago. The book can be purchased by logging on to the Heidi’s Tea Shop Facebook page, were Samuel has created an e-commerce store. The online shop also features a variety of tea sets and other goods. Customers can purchase directly from Samuel by e-mailing her at email@example.com.
The cookbook can be purchased for $32 from her Facebook e-commerce store.
This week, Samuel will be recognized by Northern Maine Community College as part of Women’s History Month. She will be featured at a book signing at the college from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 22, in the Edmunds Conference Center. She will talk about writing her cookbook, creating the tea shop, and her work as a chef and businesswoman.
Samuel said that she is happy to have the cookbook finally available to her former customers.
“The great thing about the tea shop is that we offered items that no one else had, that you could not go anywhere else and get,” she said. “This cookbook gives a little of that back to the customers.”