Just as a chef combines the right ingredients to create a special dish, so Jane Crosen has drawn on the varied “ingredients” of her life to produce “Maine Mapmaker’s Kitchen: Creative, Healthy Recipes for Home, Camp, and Afloat.”
Crosen, known in Maine as the creator of a series of hand-drawn, poster-size maps of the Maine Coast, is not only the author of the cookbook, but also drew the illustrations, laid out the different sections and did the overall design. She is also the publisher of the cookbook.
She stressed that although she did all that, she had help from friends who encouraged the project, especially Anne Ahearn at Downeast Graphics in Ellsworth, who helped with the overall design and the cover, and a fresh pair of eyes from her husband and kitchen cohort, Richard Washburn.
The cookbook — which Crosen said is part memoir — is packed with recipes, variations on recipes and cooking tips derived from the culinary two-step she and her husband perform regularly in their kitchen at their home on a dirt road in Penobscot. Although she did the writing, the recipes were developed from their mutual love of cooking — and eating — and their daring to experiment in their kitchen, at their camp and on their many canoe-camping trips together.
“Richard says this gives an intimate glimpse of our home life and what we do when we go camping,” she said.
Crosen hesitated when asked to pick a favorite recipe, but, with a quick smile, said they were all favorites.
“In order to make it into the book, they had to be a favorite, something that Richard and I liked so much that we made it a lot,” she said. “There are a lot of these recipes that we’ll make once a week.”
Crosen had an early introduction to cooking through two grandmothers and a mother who cooked, but never had the chance to spread her culinary wings until she left college to spend three years living at the Findhorn Community, an ecologically oriented, spiritual community in northern Scotland, in the 1970s. There she worked in the publishing department, developed her word and art skills and, as part of the community, also pitched in regularly with the cooking duties.
“That was really the start of it for me,” she said.
When she returned to her home in Cumberland Center, she started on a career path that led from the Delorme company, working as an editor and “girl Friday,” to WoodenBoat Publications, where she worked as typesetter and copy editor and where she still works as a freelance copy editor for WoodenBoat Magazine.
During that time she also honed her map-making skills and developed a line of maps that she created and printed on posters, postcards, notecards and T-shirts that has drawn a following and grown into a steady freelance business. It was also during that time, after she moved to the Blue Hill Peninsula area, that she met her future husband.
The “Maine Mapmaker’s Kitchen” grew out of that relationship and the small cookbook the couple created as a gift for friends and family who attended their wedding.
“We liked cooking together and we were always scribbling down recipes,” she said.
But, she said, she likes to be “intuitive” when she’s cooking. “I don’t like following other people’s recipes.”
The little cookbook proved popular, and Crosen was able to sell the 200 extra copies they had printed in stores throughout Maine, mainly where her map products were sold.
“I knew that we would write a sequel someday,” she said.
That sequel is actually a much larger cookbook, 288 pages of recipes, short stories and essays and even menus for cooking while camping. Crosen said there’s no reason for campers to settle for freeze-dried, dehydrated foods when, with a little planning, they can eat really well.
The recipes have been culled from other sources, experimented on, kneaded, mixed, stirred, tweaked and changed outright over the years. The book’s cover describes it as “a ’round-the-world, at-home-Down East cookbook,” and the recipes include down-home traditional meals such as baked beans, home-made pizza and pot pies to more exotic and international items including Spicy Moroccan Beef, Spanish Orange Chicken and Baked Kibbeh, a Mediterranean-style meatloaf.
“A lot of it is international; it’s a sampling of all the cuisine we were getting interested in,” she said. “We’re homebodies and we don’t travel much. So this is one way of traveling, by cooking the things that people in other places are cooking and eating.”
The cookbook is designed to be user-friendly. While some of the stories and short essays cover a wide range of topics such as strawberry hunting with Crosen’s mother and the joys of cooking together with family or friends, they also provide practical tips on specific cooking topics such as making herbal vinegars, picking your own mussels and a primer on heirloom beans.
Crosen also created four symbols to alert readers to recipes that are camp-friendly, suitable for left-over pot luck meals, leftovers that can be used as a base for an entirely new dish, and vegetarian dishes.
Many of the recipes offer variations to the main recipe and that, Crosen said, is one of the aims of the book. It is a way to add value to the cookbook and to suggest other directions her readers might want to take.
“I wanted to encourage people to experiment and explore,” she said.