The one thing that has always united Mainers from the past to the present, and from every corner of the state, is food.
As a tribute to the Pine Tree State’s 200th anniversary of independence, a writer, a photographer, and a book owner are releasing the Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook this summer.
Karl Schatz and Margaret Hathaway are the husband/wife team behind several books, including The Food Lover’s Guide to Maine and The Portland Maine Chef’s Table. They had the idea to produce a cookbook honoring the Maine Bicentennial and teamed up with Don Lindgren, owner of Rabelais Books, to compile recipes for a Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook.
“We were involved with the Portland food scene for the last 15 years and we approached the Maine Bicentennial commission to ask if anyone was creating a Bicentennial cookbook,” said Schatz. “No one was, so we took it upon ourselves to put one together. With Don, who had this great collection of historic community cookbooks that go back to the 1870s, the vision took shape as a Maine community cookbook that would include historic recipes, professional recipes, as well as family recipes and food stories from everyday people. And we always had the concept that part of the proceeds of the sale of the book would go to fight hunger in Maine.”
Shrimp Wiggle from the 1940s
Recipe by Lisa Millimet
Camden, Knox County
“This recipe is from my grandmother, Lulu Augusta Gray Gingras’s recipe box, brown with age, the index cards now sepia, its recipes retro, to say the least—many of them centered on seafood, reflecting her connection to the great Gulf of Maine in Massachusetts and here. She did not come from Maine, but she had a strong connection here, visiting a friend in Damariscotta every year, driving up in her Nash Rambler with the seat that turned into a bed. She was New England through and through; served salmon and peas on the fourth of July and Finnan Haddie that reflected her Scottish heritage, whether we wanted it or not. And she loved Maine. She continues to speak to me from these recipes, ones I will lovingly hand down to my grandchildren.”
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 onion, minced fine
- 1/2 can tomato soup
- 1/2 cup milk
- One can small Gulf shrimp
Melt butter in a small saucepan and sauté the onions. When onion is cooked, add remaining ingredients. Stir all together, heat well, and serve on crackers or pieces of toast.
In the fall of 2019, the couple, along with Lindgren, began the work to collect family recipes, food stories, and photos, along with recipes drawn from the state’s historic community cookbooks.
“We wanted recipes passed down in families as well as recipes from some notable Mainers, so we have a recipe from Patrick Dempsey’s family, and one from Stephen King,” said Schatz. “We have recipes from Senators and Congress members and Governor Mills is writing the forward as well as contributing a recipe.”
Schatz said that the book aimed to be inclusive of all new Mainers as well. “We have a recipe from the Somali community in Lewiston as well as a recipe from an Iraqi immigrant.”
With the help of Maine Public as its media sponsor, the project generated more than 350 submissions from all 16 counties in the state. The organizers whittled that down to 200 recipes. With a successful Kickstarter campaign, the cookbook project garnered enough funding to print 3,500 copies of the book, due out in mid-June, 2020.
History of Community Cookbooks
With its plentiful farms, hunting, seafood, and opportunities for foraging, the state of Maine has always been a rich food community. When the European settlers arrived, community suppers became a tradition in small towns, hosted by churches and fraternal organizations as a way to share the wealth with neighbors, often in the form of a baked bean supper.
The very first cookbook compiled and published in Maine was an 1877 community cookbook titled Fish Flesh & Fowl: a Book of Recipes for Cooking by the Ladies of Portland’s State Street Parish.
“There will be a recipe in our book from the 1877 book as well,” said Schatz. “A lot of these family recipes have a historic angle to them with notes attached such as ‘This is what my grandmother made us growing up.’ And inevitably, the notes end with: ‘We’re still cooking this today. And now I make this dish with my grandchildren.’ That’s the key part of what we were looking to capture when putting this book together.”
The beauty of the project is that the shared knowledge passed down from generation to generation will continue for generations to come.
“There are so many recipes in this cookbook that came from previous community cookbooks, so perhaps someone’s grandmother made a certain dish her special family recipe, but it was someone else’s recipe that she made her ‘own,’ ” he said. “This is how food traditions both get started and how they are shared and transmitted across generations and geographic lines. What we’re hoping is that when people all over Maine begin cooking these recipes from our cookbook, it’ll become the family recipe that they can pass down.”
To learn more about the Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook and to pre-order, (starting in April) visit: maine200cookbook.com
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org