Remembrance of recipes past

GOULDSBORO — Growing up, Anne Hopper couldn’t count on her mother for a recipe for coot strew. The white-billed water fowl got a bad rap because of the noise it makes and alleged terrible taste.

“She wouldn’t make it,” said Hopper whose late mother was Catherine Jacobs Boyd. “She wouldn’t allow it to be cooked in her house.”

Her grandmother, Eva Boyd, would make it, however. And, her recipe is featured in the Gouldsboro Historical Society’s annual calendar for 2020.

For years, the society has been making calendars featuring historic photos, many of which have had to be used over and over again. The society’s publications committee decided it was time to try something new. Called “Good Eating on the Peninsula,” the latest calendar features local recipes passed down through generations.

“A lot of us were connected through family, through grandmothers mostly, to these recipes,” Hopper said.

The recipes chosen for the calendar reflect the rugged, independence of the people who have lived here, making meals of what they could grow and bring home from the hunt.

“The coot stew is whatever sea duck they could shoot,” Hopper said. “They always called it ‘coot.’”

Allen Workman, society publications committee chairman, said duck must be cooked a long time.

“They’re tough eating,” he said. “It’s an acquired taste.”

Amelia Ash

The women who created and passed down the recipes featured in the calendar were expected to be good cooks, Hopper said. In fact, Janet Buffet, whose baked beans are featured on the calendar’s August page, actually attended Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery in Boston. The school’s founder, cookbook author Fannie Farmer, changed the way Americans prepare food by advocating the use of standardized measurements in recipes.

According to Hopper, however, the concept of standardized measurements didn’t really resonate with Janet, or with Vera Briggs, whose recipe for mincemeat is featured for the month of October. They would always say, “taste, taste, taste” in order to determine how much of an ingredient should be added. Although the recipes do provide specific portions in person, both women were rarely that specific.

“A few of [the recipes] are more specific than others but there’s always room for play,” Hopper said.

One of the challenges of making a recipe calendar was coming up with photos to illustrate it. The society has plenty of photos but didn’t want the illustrations to be haphazard.

“The trick was to get them to show the origins of the food,” said Workman.

For August, the society used a photo from one of its bean suppers to complement Janet Buffett’s Baked Beans recipe.

In many cases, however, the photos are historic. For the Ash’s Farmstead Christmas Fruitcake recipe featured for December, one of the photos is a portrait of Amelia Ash, who opened the Ash farmstead and eatery in 1931. Ash, who was originally from Canada, married a man who was quite a bit older. He died only five years after their marriage, leaving his wife to make a go of it on her own.

A more modern photo of the farmstead building, located in West Gouldsboro, also appears on the page.

Hopper, whose recipe is the one featured, said she worked at the Ash farm as a waitress and chambermaid when she was in high school in the 1960s. Ash died in 1975. Hopper’s son’s father-in-law now owns the farmstead building, located in West Gouldsboro.

A photo of apples growing on a tree in an abandoned dooryard at Frazer Point provided a visual backdrop for Brown Apple Betty, a dessert recipe from Nellie Wood Wooster.

The recipe was actually taken from one of two handmade cookbooks Wooster created that the historical society now owns. Wooster started with a notebook that looks something like the modern-day composition book and filled it with recipes, notes and illustrations that she pasted in.

“The recipes written herein are tested and choice,” begins the first handwritten line inside the first of the two cookbooks. “Many of them have been in use in my ancestors’ families for from three to five generations and handed down to me.”

Hopper enjoys looking through it and trying to read the old-fashioned handwriting.

“There is very much a sense of hanging on to and passing down those things in that period of time,” she said.

Hopper also has a personal connection to Lucy Cook, whose turkey pie recipe is featured for the month of November. Cook owned the house where Hopper grew up. She rented rooms to sardine factory workers, and ran a store, post office and dance hall.

“She did a lot of cooking,” Hopper said. “When they moved away, she left behind a recipe box.”

And, Lois MacGregor, whose recipe for rose hip jam graces the July page, was Hopper’s best friend’s mother.

Lois, who Hopper said was a “city girl” from Virginia, “had a lot of adapting to do” when she moved here. She learned to raise farm animals and grow vegetables and fruit trees.

The recipes also have been adapted somewhat. For example, Vera Briggs originally used suet in her mincemeat recipe. But, suet isn’t as readily available now as it used to be, and it’s not particularly in favor.

“Even the recipes that came from away got adapted to the Maine way of life,” Hopper noted.

The calendar is available at Gouldsboro Historical Society events and the Winter Harbor 5&10.

For more information, email Hopper at [email protected]

Johanna S. Billings

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Johanna S. Billings covers eastern Hancock County and western Washington County. An avid photographer, she lives in Steuben with her husband and several cats. She welcomes tips and story ideas. Email her at [email protected]

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