After months of salads, grilling, berry pies and other summer treats that require little-to-no oven usage, it can be quite satisfying to heat up the kitchen on a cool fall day and do some autumnal cooking and baking.
Classic Maine recipes are made for this sort of weather, dishes passed down from multiple generations of Mainers. If you want to get them at a restaurant, by all means do so. Or, you could try making them at home, following recipes from the Bangor Daily News’ longtime cooking columnist, Brownie Schrumpf, who between 1951 and 1994 published thousands of articles showcasing treats just like these.
We’re sure everyone’s grandparents have their own recipe for baked beans, involving various methods of soaking and cooking, and strong feelings about molasses versus maple syrup.
There’s no better place to eat baked beans than at a traditional Maine bean supper, which can be found at churches, grange halls and community centers all over the state. Or, if you’re really lucky, at a bean-hole bean supper — a much more time-consuming but delicious Maine delicacy that involves cooking the beans in a cast-iron pot, buried underground over hot embers. Then 12 or so hours later, it’s thick, smoky, sweet and savory.
If you’re fixing to cook up your own pot of beans, we’ve got a classic recipe. In 1951 Schrumpf called on a Mr. Holbrook, a janitor and elevator operator at the Maine State House, for his recipe for baked beans, which requires little more than salt pork, molasses, onions and, of course, beans — and plenty of time. The secret ingredient is apple.
“Don’t peel the apple, put it in whole,” Holbrook told her in the Sept. 29, 1951 issue of the BDN. “When the beans are baked you won’t find a bit of apple, and the beans will taste awfully good.”
Clam chowder is often a tourist food, ladled into a disposable cup or bowl. Seafood chowder is only for special occasions, with all that expensive lobster and scallop in there. Fish chowder, however, is the stew that Mainers make for everyday eating, loaded up with plentiful and affordable white fish like cod or haddock. Unlike its fancier cousins, fish chowder is much less thick, and lets the delicate flavor of the fish take center stage.
You’ll find fish chowder on the menu at classic Maine eateries like Helen’s Restaurant in Machias, Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro, the Dolphin in Harpswell or the Coach House and the Eagles Nest, both in Brewer. It’s a simple, unassuming stew that will warm your bones after a long day outside, apple picking or hiking or doing fall yard work.
If you’d rather make it yourself, you could use the recipe that legendary New England chef Jasper White shared with Julia Child on one of her PBS shows that utilizes heavy cream. Or you could try the much simpler recipe that Brownie suggested in November 1959, with just seven ingredients: salt pork, onions, potatoes, milk, cream, salt and pepper and lots of fresh fish.
While shepherd’s pie isn’t a tried-and-true Maine dish — it’s traditionally an English recipe, made popular in this neck of the woods through the heritage of many early New England settlers — it is something that absolutely screams fall cooking. With its savory combination of lamb, potatoes, veggies and a flavorful brown gravy, you can feel the coziness before it’s even out of the oven.
Some people and restaurants make shepherd’s pie with beef, and the more pedantic among us might say that that’s technically called cottage pie. No matter, you can get shepherd’s pie at restaurants including Geaghan’s in Bangor, which makes a particularly delightful version.
For a homemade recipe, Brownie once again comes to the rescue with her version from 1970, which adds both pimentos and Worcestershire sauce to the mix, alongside carrots and peas.
The term “Indian pudding” is a bit culturally insensitive, and it’s equally known by its other names, hasty pudding or cornmeal pudding. It is, however, possibly the oldest dessert that’s all-American, made with cornmeal, molasses, milk and butter, often flavored with cinnamon or ginger. Even when topped with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, it’s not exactly the most visually appealing treat — but it sure is tasty.
It’s not that common on restaurant menus these days, but you can still find it at places like the aforementioned Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro. Fielder’s Choice Ice Cream makes a baked Indian pudding ice cream flavor, and Bar Harbor Foods has it in a can on store shelves. Many probably miss it from the menu at the old Howard Johnson’s on Odlin Road in Bangor, too.
To make it yourself, follow Brownie’s directions to a T, which requires six to eight hours of baking at 275 degrees. You can make it in a shorter amount of time at a higher temp if you’d like, but Brownie warns that it won’t have the same “caramel-ginger type flavor that comes from long, slow cooking.”