When Sandra Oliver started writing her Bangor Daily News column, she didn’t really know much about the food columnists who came before her. Mildred Brown “Brownie” Schrumpf at the Bangor Daily News and Marjorie Standish at the Portland paper had instructed home cooks on what to make for decades.
“Somewheres along the line, someone had given me a Cooking Down East [cookbook by Marjorie Standish],” Oliver said in a phone interview on a recent May morning. “I turned to Standish to see what she defined as what really was traditional Maine cooking.”
Oliver celebrates Standish’s legacy in “Cooking Maine Style: Tried and True Recipes from Down East.” It features recipes curated from Marjorie Standish’s cookbooks along with commentary and notes from Oliver. Maine Clam Chowder shares the first chapter with Potpourri Soup, which features hamburg, onions, barley and a slew of veggies. Recipes for Steamed Brown Bread, Hot Crabmeat Dip, Needhams and Refrigerated Cucumber Pickles are in there too.
“She was fully cognizant of all that good old Maine stuff,” Oliver said of Standish’s cooking. “There was more modern stuff in there but she loved those old traditional Maine dishes.”
Oliver chose the recipes by going through the cookbooks and writing down anything that appealed to her — even the more dated recipes, which she labels as “period pieces” in the cookbook. Those include the Potpourri Soup and also Percolator Punch, which features pineapple juice, brown sugar and spices warmed in a coffee percolator. But many of them are just traditional foods cooked simply.
“Because I am really a historian at heart, I read those old recipes and my heart goes thump-a-thump … It’s just plain, good food,” Oliver said.
Standish’s legacy lives on in Maine, Oliver said. Over the years, Oliver has found that often when readers sent in their Grandma’s recipes, they were actually ones Marjorie Standish had written about in her column and in her two cookbooks. And inside those columns and cookbooks, Oliver found something else she really appreciated: a “deep sense of history.”
“People still remember Marjorie. There are people still alive who were her friends and loved George and Marj,” Oliver said.
The legacy of columns by home economists goes back over a hundred years, Oliver noted. It’s something that’s been important to kitchens and homes, giving home cooks a way to get and share recipes.
“The Boston paper in the 1800s had something called the chat column … would publish ideas from readers. It’s just wonderful stuff. It’s just women talking together in the paper,” Oliver said. Today, she hears from readers of her own column who live around the world and are able to access it online.
“I’ve just trodden in [the] footsteps,” of the food columnists who came before, Oliver said.
“Cooking Maine Style,” is now available in bookstores.
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