We could all use a little extra connection and cheer during these challenging times, and perhaps a few new ideas for what to cook at home. In Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook, I’m finding all of that and more.
The authors, Margaret Hathaway and Karl Schatz, in collaboration with antiquarian cookbook bookseller Don Lindgren of Rabelais Inc. fame, created the book in celebration of Maine’s 2020 bicentennial of statehood. They kept the first print run small, expecting an enthusiastic yet modest local response. Now six months in and several printings later, they’re finding 40 percent of online sales have been from out of state.
“The community cookbook took hold in the 1870s and became a popular way for women, and some men, to express themselves and do good locally,” Lindgren says. “Most were distributed locally, not often getting past the boundaries of their own communities.”
So, what’s with this particular community cookbook’s popularity? A little armchair travel to a beloved destination is certainly part of the appeal. The spirit of helping feels good, too. (Two dollars from every copy sold goes to organizations fighting hunger in Maine, which ranks 12th in the nation for food insecurity.) And the book’s delightfully kooky mix of recipes and stories, submitted by cooks of all ages and stripes, are endlessly fun.
In what other cookbook would you find a recipe for 24-hour Yeasted Peanut Butter Waffles, contributed by 14-year-old Kennebunk cook Maya Flores, alongside a loose version of spaghetti and meatballs from celebrated suspense spinner Stephen King? I’ve yet to try King’s dish (called Lunchtime Gloop) made with “greasy hamburger” and canned spaghetti, but Flores’ overnight batter yielded fluffy, crispy-edged waffles, whose nutty richness was a perfect foil for the Maine maple syrup I liberally drizzled over them.
In true Maine fashion, there are recipes for biscuits, molasses cookies, chocolate stout donuts, several switchels and shrubs, and a couple of whoopie pies. Lobster lovers and blueberry fans will also find much to enjoy. But it's the rich history, told through essays and stories, and broad range of voices and cultural influences included that make this Maine cookbook especially interesting. Cooking the recipes and reading the text has taught me so much about my recently adopted state and community (I've lived here in Maine for close to three years.)
Take the recipe for Lebanese hushweh, for example—an aromatic one-pot pilaf made with ground lamb, pine nuts, and rice that’s great as a side to roast chicken or packed into a warm pita. Contributor Dr. Eric Hooglund shares that in 1910, Waterville, Maine, was home to the largest Arabic-speaking community in Maine and one of the largest in the United States. The recipe came from a 1970s Waterville Lebanese community cookbook, which is still used to this day to create feasts for public church suppers and its annual Halfi festival.
In Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook, there are dozens of gems like this that speak to family, tradition, home and home cooking, and community in its fullest form, in a nostalgic and meaningful way.
Recipes and stories from contributors “espouse the value of family, honor the primacy of Maine’s Native people, celebrate the immigrants who have made this place their home, and remind us that we are connected by so much more than divides us,” Hathaway says. That’s what makes the collection so inspiring."
Buy it: Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook, $20.20 on Amazon