Friday, October 22, 2010

Two Classic Maine Cookbooks

Marjorie Standish's Cooking Down East, and Marjorie Mosser's Good Maine Food both dating to the mid-20th century, reflect traditional Maine cooking. One is a "her's" book, and one is a "his" book.

Both have recently been reprinted by Down East Books. I'm fresh home from the launch on Wednesday in Portland, Maine, where I spoke about the two, having written a new foreword and scattered commentary for the Mosser book. Star chef Melissa Kelly of Primo restaurant did a foreword for the Standish book and inserted some of her own recipes. Melissa cooked from Standish and her own repertoire: Oysters Rockefeller, two kinds of crab cakes, a fish stew and a clam chowder, doughnuts, cannoli, and blueberry cake, all passed around for our delectation. Truly lovely fare.

What do I mean by his and her books?

Cooking Down East is a companion in the kitchen for the household cook (at the time the book was written, that would have been most commonly a woman). The recipes are homey--chowders, blueberry desserts, meatloaf, finnan haddie, pot roast, baked beans, squash pie. Good home cooking. Standish writes in an advisory fashion. Her recipes have incredible legs. In the column I write weekly for the Bangor Daily News, the response to various queries I post for recipes results in family favorites that someone's mother or gram found in Standish's book.

The copy of the book I own is full of splatters and spills, and handwritten recipes on scraps of paper stuck into the book. Used constantly, Standish's cookbook was a friendly, useful, woman-to-woman kind of book.

Good Maine Food by Marjorie Mosser is dominated by Mosser's uncle, the historical novelist Kenneth Roberts. The cookbook was assembled when Robert's Trending into Maine chapter on Maine food, kicked up a pile of nostalgic correspondence. Readers sent recipes and Roberts seemed to be determined to put together a profile of traditional Maine food in the form of a cookbook, heavily larded with his own commentary. No lack of opinion there. He had experienced the last of the Maine culinary tradition, he was sure, with his grandmother's mincemeat and ketchup.

Robert Tristam Coffin similarly held forth similarly in Mainstays of Maine, where the sainted black iron stove in the kitchen under the control of the dominating female relative generated memorable smells and hearty boy-supporting fare. Roberts was not to be outdone.

Besides, the swashbuckling, thumping good tales that Roberts wrote, point to a man's man: someone who fished and hunted and presented some patient woman in the kitchen with dead animals and birds to cook toothsomely. In Mosser's book there is no lack of game and fowl recipes. In the earliest version there is hardly any effete fare at all, though apparently Roberts thought the book ought to have wider appeal and recipes from what Mainers invariably describe as "Away", all of which Maine is surrounded by, invade the cookbook. Timbales, au gratins, aspics and omelets were in fact, going out of fashion even as they were added to the book. Extra-regional favorites as scrapple, jambalaya, and burgoo crop up unaccountably.

One gets the impression that old Uncle Ken sat in the living room with his pipe rack by his side, foot on a hassock, and bellowed out from time to time, "Mrs. R., listen to this," as he read a letter from a reader who suggested a recipe, and then he's holler for his secretary and niece Marjorie to add it to her file for the next edition of Good Maine Food. It was his cookbook, after all.

The 1974 edition of Mosser's cookbook, the one reprinted by Down East is a fun read for men and women alike, suitable for the living room. The Standish one you will take into the kitchen and spill and spatter on. Both represent Maine food history both in the traditional form, and in the gradual overlays that time and change invariably make.


  1. Have a copy of the 1978 cookbook: The Maine Way-a collection of fish and game recipes. Written by Judy Marsh and Carole Dyer and published by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Augusta, Maine.

    Perhaps this Maine book is a rarity with regard to this type of featured recipes by region or state, however, it certainly has some interesting recipes.

  2. WOW, I just found your website today while searching for: "Maine cookbook blog" and thoroughly enjoyed this article. I am going to read through all of your Bangor Daily articles soon! You are an amazing writer and seem to have some of the same passion that I have when it comes to cooking, recipes, and cookbooks. I'd love that cannoli recipe.

    I have just begun to blog at: It is no where done to where I want it, but I am just starting to post.

    I wonder what you think of my critique of the
    My BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS Cookbook, copyright 1930 at:

    I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed reading yours.

    Thank you, Lyn, Central Maine

  3. There was a typing error in my comment above. The blog site that I recently started is actually at:

    (The link to my cookbook critique is correct.) Lyn

  4. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

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