FRANKLIN — Cooking for a crowd is one of Teddy Giles’ specialties.
The Greenville native grew up helping her mother prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for 25 or more hungry people at Big Houston, a sporting camp her parents owned on Big Houston Pond near the Katahdin Iron Works in Piscataquis County.
Today, Giles, 84, cooks for even bigger crowds at the Franklin Veterans Club, which, in spite of its name, is open to the public.
The club hosts $5 suppers on Friday nights. Most Saturday nights, unless the hall is being rented, dinner costs $10. One Saturday a month there’s a prime rib dinner for $25. Those draw as many as 120 people.
Plus, there are the holiday events for which Giles and the other volunteers prepare meals and snacks. Last Sunday, finger food was on order for the Anah Shriners 5th Annual Facts & Figures Cribbage Tournament.
“She’s the heartbeat of this organization,” said club President Steve Mosley.
“I figure I’ll do what I can do until I can’t do it anymore,” she said. “I’ve always been like this. My mother was the same way.”
Giles’ father, Tommy Hamel, was a Registered Maine Guide before he and his wife, Ruth, bought their lodge.
“She would cook at these sporting camps,” Giles said. “She was the cook. She was the waitress. A lot of times she’d have 25 people staying there. I don’t know how she did it.”
This would have been the late 1930s and into the 1940s.
The camps and then the lodge, once the Hamels bought it, had no power and thus no refrigeration.
In February, the family would cut chunks of ice from Moosehead Lake. They would cover the ice with sawdust and store it for months.
Supplies were obtained from a general store in Brownville Junction and ordered from S.S. Pierce Co. in Boston. The Gary Co. would send supplies through the U.S. Post Office.
Giles, then a young girl, would be sent to town to pick up some goods if they would fit in her pack basket.
The family’s German shepherd, Buck, would accompany her.
“It was scary sometimes walking up there,” Giles said. “I always kept Buck with me.”
Once, despite Buck’s protection, Giles had to scramble far up a tree to evade a moose.
“I set the pack basket down before I climbed the tree,” she recalled. The moose was “brushing up against my feet.”
In the evenings, when Giles was done washing dishes and helping her mother in the kitchen, she would take a boat out to fish in Big Houston Pond.
“I’d come back with two or three nice trout,” she said.
There was plenty of trout to be had, too; so many, in fact, that Ruth would can them with water and a bit of salt.
If you ask Giles for a recipe, she will graciously share it, but be ready with paper and pen. Most of the former second selectman’s recipes are stored in her head.
“Just off my head I know how many potatoes to peel to feed 75 people,” she said.
“She is the food drill sergeant,” said daughter-in-law Kenda Giles, who cooks her own share of Friday night suppers for the club. “If you get in here with ingredients, forget it.”
Giles bakes pies and cakes, which she donates to the club. Desserts are included in the prime rib dinner.
“Her chocolate cream pies are unreal,” Mosley said.
Prime rib nights feature white tablecloths on the tables in the club hall.
Giles takes the linens home afterward to clean them and get all the spots out. Mosley has suggested they just take them to the Laundromat, but Giles won’t hear of it.
“She’s not OCD at all,” Mosley quipped.
Giles’ only relaxation these days seems to be her annual spring trip to Aruba, a tradition she started with her late husband, Paul, who died in 2012.
“She’ll be making lunch for all her friends in Aruba,” said daughter-in-law Kenda. “She doesn’t stop.”
Giles has been married and widowed twice. Her first husband was a crop pilot who died in a plane crash.
As a young woman, Giles worked as a waitress at the Claremont Hotel in Southwest Harbor. After that, she served as a cook in a private home in Florida.
The Franklin Veterans Club is a second home for Giles. A sign over the kitchen entrance reads “Teddy’s Kitchen.”
“This is my kitchen,” she said.
Paul Giles, a U.S. Air Force veteran, was one of the club’s co-founders. Her late father also had a hand there. He helped expand the kitchen and donated funds to help buy a Vulcan range.
Giles’ given name is Vena, but her older brother by two years named her “Teddy” just hours after she was born. He thought she was a new teddy bear.
The Franklin Veterans Club is located at 4 Cards Crossing. No one needs be a veteran or a club member to attend any events or meals. For more info, call 565-2977 and visit www.franklinveteransclub.com.