Through life’s unpredictable turns of events, it was a native German who stood in the basement of Orono’s Church of Universal Fellowship last Monday and taught me about the history of the logging industry in Maine. Anette Ruppel Rodrigues grew up in Germany and attended college in Cologne. And yet it was Anette who taught me about the “Bangor Tigers,” explained the background of a downtown monument I breeze past all the time and fed me my first taste of authentic bean hole beans.
This is a fairly typical experience at the monthly lunches of Women of the World, a social group of international women sponsored by the University of Maine’s Office of International Programs. You find unexpected connections from around the globe and around the corner, and you always learn something new.
What caught my eye this week was the unusual theme. Rather than feasting on unfamiliar delicacies from some far-off land, lunch highlighted the state of Maine.
“We have many women who have seen the world, and are very interested in the world, but sometimes we forget how interesting the history is right here in Maine,” Rodrigues said.
She has always been interested in history, so it was a logical field to explore once she arrived in Maine with her husband in the early 1970s. Rodrigues became involved with the Bangor Historical Society and was curator for three seasons. Then she discovered the Maine Forest and Logging Museum at Leonard’s Mills and became fascinated with the logging camps of 19th century Maine.
“You had to feed these men three to five times every day. They needed protein and warmth,” and they needed food in enormous quantities. They adapted a Native American technique and built fire pits lined with hot stones or metal into which they placed huge iron pots of seasoned beans. “You needed two burly men to lift the pot from the hole.”
In the camps, “The cook was God,” said Rodrigues, smiling. Loggers would often choose camps based on the reputation of the cook, and “you never messed with the cook! He kept you alive.”
The Bradley museum at Leonard’s Mills just celebrated its Living History Days. Lucky for us,
there were leftover beans, which Rodrigues froze. So she was able to serve bona fide, traditional bean hole beans the following week at the WOW luncheon. They were delicious and went well with a nice cup of “Switchel,” a molasses and vinegar based drink that was also popular in the camps and on farms.
Although I knew that logging was the heart of Maine’s commerce throughout the 19th century and into the 20th, I did not know the extent to which Maine’s river drivers garnered fame throughout the Northeast.
Outsiders often called them the “Bangor Tigers,” and they were worthy of the monument built in their honor outside of the Bangor Public Library downtown.
Some might argue that it was not politicians and soldiers, but those skilled, rugged men who did their perilous work on the river (and their cooks) who built the state of Maine. “They are the real heroes,” said Rodrigues.
Each time I attend one of the women’s lunches, I marvel that the WOW events don’t overflow their dining hall.
Since 1978, on the second Monday of every month from September to May, this group of enthusiastic women (about half from the United States) gathers for an ethnic meal and a cultural presentation highlighting some part of the planet. These women love to share each other’s cultures and sample each other’s cuisine. And sometimes, they share our own culture with us and teach us something new.
Women of the World requires no membership dues, only the price of the monthly meal ($5) and a general spirit of partnership and shared community where women contribute what they can when time permits. For information, call 581-3423 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to the Maine Forest & Logging Museum at Leonard’s Mills for sharing these recipes. For more information about their historic settlement, call 974-6278 or visit their website leonardsmills.com.
Oliver Leonard’s Favorite Baked Beans
Serves 4, or 1 hungry lumberjack
1½ cup dry beans
⅛ teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon brown sugar
¼ cup molasses
1 small 2-inch cube salt pork
1 small onion
Parboil beans slowly for one hour. Mix together dry mustard, brown sugar, salt, pepper and molasses. Add two cups boiling water to mixture. Stir thoroughly until dissolved. Drain beans and place in bean pot and add salt pork, onion and dissolved mixture. Add hot water to 3-4 inches from top of pot. Bake in 300 degree oven 6-8 hours, adding cold water if juice is below level of beans.
1 cup sugar
½ cup molasses
½ cup vinegar
½ teaspoon ginger
6 cups water (or more)
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at email@example.com.