Jim Collins has been around food for much of his adult life. The 46-year-old Hampden resident started working at a bakery while in high school. He went on to restaurant jobs, then ran his own catering business for a number of years.
So it seems only natural now that Collins is creating and distributing his own food mixes, something he says he likes doing.
“I really enjoy being my own boss and setting my own hours,” said Collins in a recent interview at his office in a Bangor industrial park.
Collins got into his current line of work kind of by accident.
“About six years ago, I had bought some [packaged meat rubs], and I thought, ‘I can make my own,’” he recalled. “I started messing around with them, and came up with my original recipe. The others followed suit.”
His line, Jimbo’s Spice Rubs, includes the following flavors: original, garlic, hickory, mesquite, hot & spicy and Mexican.
The rubs are designed for use when grilling, oven-baking or pan-frying. Collins recommends a good coating of the rub, and then refrigerating the meat for a few hours, even overnight, to enhance the flavor.
At first, Collins ran his business out of his home. Then, about two years ago, he met Dianne Lovejoy, then owner of New England Cupboard, which distributes its own line of baking mixes, Bakewell baking ingredients, Winterport Co. dips, mixes for popovers and cookies as well as Bristol Harbor dessert mixes.
Jimbo’s Spice Rubs soon joined those products on the New England Cupboard Web site, www.newenglandcupboard.com.
The most famous of those products is Bakewell Cream, which was developed in the mid-1940s by Byron H. Smith, a chemist from Bangor who created a substitute for cream of tartar to offset wartime shortages. It has become a staple of Maine kitchens ever since.
Lovejoy decided to sell the business, and offered Collins first crack at it. He took over in October 2008.
“I had worked with Dianne, helping her out when I could, so I was familiar with the products,” he said. “She wanted to sell the business to someone local, who would keep it in Maine.”
The big sellers at New England Cupboard are “anything with blueberries in it,” Collins said, and popovers are also very popular.
Collins stressed that the NEC products are all-natural, and are made by hand, with as many Maine ingredients as possible.
Even in a down economy, things have been going well for Collins, with sales up 8 percent over last year.
“Stores all over Maine are still ordering,” he said. “They’ll make a smaller initial order, see how that goes, then follow with an additional order.”
Collins hasn’t made any changes since taking over.
“Nothing was broken, so I wasn’t going to fix [anything],” he said. “I’m experimenting with adding new products, but I haven’t made any changes to existing products.”
Products are available online at www.newenglandcupboard.com, and in Greater Bangor at Bell’s IGA in Orono, the Natural Living Center in Bangor, Hampden Natural Foods and Edwards in Hampden. To find nearby retailers with NEC products, e-mail Jim@newenglandcupboard.com.
Here are some recipes from the cookbook “Favorite Bakewell Cream Recipes.”
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons shortening
1½ cups flour
½ cup milk
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
ª teaspoon Bakewell Cream
¤ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
Cream together sugar, shortening, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and eggs. Mix flour with Bakewell Cream, soda and salt. Add dry ingredients alternately with milk to the creamed mixture. Bake in greased bread pan for 1 hour at 325 degrees.
Mix the 3 tablespoons lemon juice and ½ cup sugar. Pour over the bread immediately on removing from oven. Cool in pan.
Peanut Butter Dream Bars
¼ cup butter
½ cup peanut butter
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
2 beaten eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup light brown sugar
¤ cup flour
½ teaspoon Bakewell Cream
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup flaked coconut
6-ounce package chocolate chips
Cream butter and peanut butter well. Add ½ cup brown sugar and beat until fluffy. Add 1 cup flour and blend well. Press into greased 9-inch square pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, beat eggs, vanilla and 1 cup light brown sugar until creamy. Add ¤ cup flour, Bakewell Cream and soda. Stir in coconut and chocolate chips. Spread over hot partially baked layer in pan. Bake 30 minutes. Cool completely before cutting.