Cooking with Maine Women Writers, part 1

We here at the Maine Women Writers Collection collect a wide variety of materials, from books to letters to artwork and more. We probably have more than you imagine. Even within our book collection there is a multitude of topics. We have both fiction and non-fiction, everything from classic literature to children’s books to…cookbooks!

To me, there are two types of food writers – writers who cook and foodies who write. It seems that most cookbooks are written by the latter, as perhaps it should be, words not necessarily being well-suited for dinner fare. For most cookbooks and food blogs the writing is, though certainly important, secondary. It must be clear and well-done, to be sure, but it can get away with being quite simple in nature and more instructive than narrative. After all, a roast chicken doesn’t necessarily need an accompanying story to taste delicious. (But it can’t hurt!)

I’ve taken a peek through some of the cookbook material here and am going to share some of it with you over the next few days. After all, what better time to do some recipe sharing than at the holidays?

First up, a classic cookbook by a Maine woman writer – Cooking Down East by Marjorie Standish. I grew up with a tattered copy of this on the shelf in my parents’ kitchen. (It’s still my go-to source for a recipe for anadama bread!) First published in 1969, this cookbook holds an array of simple recipes using foods that most people would have already had in the pantry. The writing is simple and she includes bits of descriptive prose and even the occasional verse:

I baked a cake and my, it was good!
It rose and browned, as all cakes should.
I made some tea, fragrant and strong.
But that day no one came along!
I made a cake and it was punk!
It rose and then it went kerplunk.
I made some tea, both weak and thin
And that day all our friends dropped in!
(Anonymous)

Though not all of the recipes stand up to the test of time (there’s a certain reliance on gelatin and canned soups that modern cooks may not be comfortable with) there are still quite a few that could be included in a 2012 holiday menu, like this simple custard pie.

She [Marjorie’s mother in law] was just as widely known for custard pie and it is not unusual to have people say “Just made George’s mother’s pie today, it’s the best!” She gave the recipe in proportions for a 9-inch pie and a 10-inch pie.

CUSTARD PIE

4 eggs, slightly beaten
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups milk
nutmeg
½ teaspoon vanilla

Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry. Flute edge of pie crust. Combine eggs, sugar and salt. Add milk and vanilla. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Sprinkle nutmeg over filling. Bake at 450 degrees 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350, continue baking 30 minutes longer.

Are you unsure about when a custard pie is done? If custard is risen, it is an indication that the pie should come out of the oven. The custard still continues to cook as the pie cools on a wire rack. Test custard with a silver knife, if you prefer. Put blade into center of custard. If blade comes out clean, pie is done.

For the larger pie plate, use;

6 eggs
5/8 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 quart milk
nutmeg

Incidentally, right after this recipe for “custard pie” is a recipe for…”beautiful custard pie.” Regardless of which custard pie you might choose, I hope they all turn out beautifully!

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