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My mother, Martha Louise Greenlaw, will not become the next Martha Stewart. She has never made her own Christmas ornaments, nor has she ever recycled the cardboard tube at the center of the toilet paper roll in the cause of home decorating. "Our" Martha does not knit, crochet, or sew, which is why I learned to hem pant legs with a stapler. I clearly recall an old cookie tin referred to as "the sewing basket," which I discovered under Mom's bed while searching for something with which to replace a renegade button, and my dismay at its contents of abundant iron-on patches and safety pins and its lack of needles and thread. Housekeeping was somewhat of a fire drill, done only when certain company was expected, and then at the last minute. Working as a team, Mom and four children could tidy the twelve disheveled rooms at Seventeen White Street in sixty minutes flat. I do not remember what was stored in my bedroom's bureau drawers, but it was not clothing. Laundry for six family members could be found in one of two places: Dirty duds were in a heap on the basement floor under the laundry chute that pierced three stories, and clean clothes lived in piles that lined the stairway leading to the bedrooms. Mom cheerfully endured some lighthearted teasing from her father-in-law about her unique form of domesticity, but the teasing stopped at dinnertime.
A seat at the table at my mother's house is a privilege I, at the age of forty-four, still look forward to today. The sanctity of mealtime is bolstered by strict rules set by our unwavering Martha. Shirts and shoes are required and hats are forbidden. The television and stereo are shut off prior to our sitting down. Electronic games and cell phones are neither seen nor heard. There will be some semblance of manners, although speaking with one's mouth full is permitted when complimenting the chef. All of this may sound daunting to the "eat on the run" crowd, but the mealtime regimen is as comforting as the food itself. Food in abundance is a sign of well-being and prosperity for a generation that knows what it feels like to be rationed or even to go to bed hungry. I have never been truly hungry, but I understand the feeling of refuge when being fed. My mother makes every meal a communal event whether it's a feast for a cast of thousands or the occasional sandwich just for the two of us. Laughter and singing come from my mother's kitchen and follow her from the stove to the table, where every morsel is a celebration.
Just over five feet tall and weighing well under 120 pounds, Mom at the age of seventy-one is still a giant in the kitchen. There's an aura about Mom when she's cooking and entertaining that extends to and envelops all who are included: a beam of sunshine absent the glare, which warms recipients of this gift of food that she enthusiastically and generously shares. For food is her gift and her passion. I have occasionally helped Mom in the kitchen from as far back as I can remember, and although I have developed my own culinary sense and flair, she reigns. Whether we are working in her kitchen, my kitchen, or somewhere in between, she possesses an absolute, unspoken, and natural authority. No formal training, no degrees from prestigious institutions, neither gourmet nor chef, but Martha Greenlaw is a cook. And where we come from, no higher compliment can be paid. --LG
We New Englanders are a sturdy breed and tend to stay pretty much where we're born. Nowhere is this more true than in Maine. I am well aware of the hardships of living along Maine's rocky coast and of the even more strenuous ones of living further inland, but I am also aware of the privilege. Maine is my home, Maine is where my heart is. It's breathtakingly beautiful, still not crowded, and, like the rest of New England, attracts feisty, independent people. This is just fine by me!
I have been cooking New England food for too many years to mention, and along the way I have developed a reputation for being a pretty good cook. I love time in the kitchen, and when you can start with some of the best native ingredients around, cooking is more of a pleasure than ever.
Cooking up here in the north country is as much driven by ingredients as by creativity. When I see a basket of tiny Maine blueberries, I know it's time to make a blueberry pie. When my husband, Jim, brings a few lobsters home after a day on the lobster boat, the Mattie Belle, I boil them right up. When I spot fresh green beans in the local store, I buy them and cook them that night. Nothing fancy, but always good.
Why I Wrote This Book
I have four children, all living here in Maine. My second daughter, Linda, is an author, as well as a lobster fisherman and a very good cook. She used to be a swordfish boat captain, sailing out of Massachusetts all the way to the Grand Banks, but a few years ago she returned to our little island community and took up lobstering with her dad. She has written three books about these experiences and so I guess it was natural for us to start talking about writing a cookbook together. Both of us have strong opinions about food and cooking and both of us love to eat.
Linda and I are passionate about the fish, lobster, and crabs in our Maine waters and the blueberries and cranberries that grow so easily along our coast. We also love all manner of meat and fowl. Both of us have been known to plan entire parties around a single ingredient and so, when we sat down to organize this book into chapters, we decided it should be done as much as possible by ingredient.
As you flip through the pages, you'll find the lobster, crab, clam, mussel, shrimp, and scallop recipes together in one chapter and all the fin fish together in another. We put the blueberry and cranberry recipes together, mixing savory and sweet preparations. We combined the meat and poultry dishes in one chapter, too.
If you've ever tried to organize your own recipe files, you will understand that even these neat and tidy categories have blurry edges. For instance, we have a chapter called Beginnings, which has recipes that involve crab, clams, or shrimp. In Chapter 9, Plain Old-Fashioned Sweets, you won't find sweet blueberry or cranberry dishes.
People who visit New England during the spectacular months of July and August dream about our lobster rolls, clam chowder, coleslaw, and blueberry pancakes. These are pretty much "summer foods," and as outstanding as they are-and we have recipes for all of them in the book-there's more to New England cooking. We are known, too, for our baked beans, Boston brown bread, pumpkin pie, and gingerbread, foods that taste awfully good during cold New England winters.
I count myself lucky to have cooked with wonderful friends and family members over the years and so have included recipes from many of them, too. We are no more stuck in the past in New England than elsewhere, and we like to experiment with the flavors and simplified cooking techniques that constitute contemporary American cooking. You'll find recipes for salmon with a blueberry salsa, a tricolor beet salad, and even lobster chili! (Try it; I was wary, too, until I tasted it.)
Linda has supplied about twenty recipes for the book, which I love. I think she's an adventuresome cook, with good ideas and no hesitation about trying them. She's supplied the essays about the food and island life, something she is far better equipped to do than I.
I am always on the lookout for new and intriguing recipes and have never been afraid to try unfamiliar foods. One year when the kids were young, I took an intensive course in Chinese cooking. I remember how much I loved the challenge, even if Linny and my other kids refer to that period as "the year of Chinese cooking."
Isle au Haut
Our tiny island off the tip of Stonington, Maine, is home to Jim and me. Linny has settled here, too, and while all of us spend time "off island" and enjoy being out in the larger world, our return to the island is always on our minds. Jim's mother and grandparents were born here, members of the Hamilton and Robinson families, who, for generations, have lived on the island and elsewhere in our part of Penobscot Bay. I was known as a highlander when I was younger, having been born on a dairy farm in Winslow, Maine, which was at least a good hour from the coast. I didn't set foot on the island until 1957, when Jim brought me here on a most memorable date, and there was no turning back after my first taste of it.
We had to stop first in Rockland to pick up Jim's grandmother, Lil, who accompanied us to Isle au Haut as our chaperone. It was a glorious fall weekend in Maine and as we walked the short route from the dock to the old Greenlaw homestead, I felt myself falling in love with the place. We had a simple supper that night in a house lit mainly by kerosene lamps. I remember Lil's biscuits, which were similar to my mother's. The next morning we ate a big breakfast of eggs, bacon, and potatoes, and I was enchanted with how the autumn sunshine sparkled on the ocean. I just knew I was home.
A year later, Jim and I were married and although we lived in Topsham, Maine, we came to the island as often as possible and certainly most of every summer. Finally, after our children were raised, we moved here as full-time residents and I couldn't be happier.
Because there is a permanent population of about forty-five people and a summer one of only four hundred or so, everyone knows their neighbors and there is a lot of casual socializing. Island life may be relaxed, but it is not always easy.
Linda and I agree you have to be independent, resourceful, and tough to live out here. The rewards are many: a sense of tranquility and peace that comes with the slower pace and natural beauty. But I would argue that best of all is the sense of community, and for me, that community is always enhanced by good food.
Over the years, we've had more potluck suppers and family picnics on the island than you can count. Off island, when we lived nearer Portland, Maine, Jim and I were active in a gourmet group and got together monthly for what we dubbed "the galloping indigestion" dinners. Truth be told, the food was awfully good and many of the recipes I perfected then are included here. For instance, I have been making the Make-Ahead Party Potatoes on page 187 for years, and they are still a big hit.
When the children were young, they played for hours with their cousins and friends, running from house to house on the island. We prepared a lot of communal meals, then, moving in and out of each other's kitchens with familiarity. Every night after supper, the kids gathered at the Kennedy Field to play softball, capture the flag, or hide 'n' seek. We are so far north, it doesn't get dark until late in the summer, so these games could go on for hours. The field, which is in front of the Congregational Church, is the largest piece of open land on the island.
Sometimes there was a dance at the town hall, which still doubles as a library and a gym. After these dances, Linny tells me she and her teenage friends would walk around the island. We have only one road, but it's thirteen miles long! That was quite a hike for the kids, but since there are hardly any cars on the road at any time of day and since there was no place to go, we never worried.
The island hasn't changed much. We have a one-room schoolhouse and a post office the size of a playhouse. There's still only one store, open in the summer from 9 to 5 and in the winter from 10 to 1, with a limited selection. Most of us leave the island once a week and haul groceries and other supplies home on the mail boat that serves as our ferry. You might think we would have extensive vegetable and herb gardens, but unless you erect a very high deer fence, it's not realistic.
Generally, islanders have an old car on the island and then another, somewhat better car, in Stonington to use when we leave. Island kids have been known to take our cars for joyrides from time to time, so, to avoid having them broken into, most of us just leave the keys in the cars when we park them at the dock.
Although we have to ship all supplies to the island and therefore have to come up with ingenious ways to store things, we have all the luxuries of mainland living, even if they are a little more haphazard. For example, the electricity is quite reliable and only goes out during the worst storms, but the electric bills are another matter. The Isle au Haut electric company is located in someone's house, and the company owner (who is also the homeowner) sends the bills when he gets around to it-which is never on schedule!
I wouldn't trade any of this for another way of life. When I was young, I couldn't wait to get off the farm where I grew up, one of six children-although today I would give anything to go back there just to smell the aroma of new mown hay coming through my bedroom window. My mother was an excellent cook and while she didn't encourage our help in the kitchen, later when I had my own family and started cooking all the time, I realized I was competing with her. I thank her for the inspiration.
Cooking on the Island
As I have said, Linda and I are opinionated about our food. We are of the opinion that it has to taste good and that it should be shared with family and friends. This is why we wrote the book: to share our cooking with you.
This is not a lobster cookbook, although we could write one. For good reason, Maine lobsters are legendary and while we, as a lobstering family, sometimes get tired of them, we wouldn't want to go for too long without eating lobster. Linda likes to boil them outside to keep them from steaming up the house; I don't mind cooking them inside. She has a deep pot on her deck, originally designed for deep-frying turkey, that she fires up at any time and can hold up to eighteen lobsters.
We both prefer soft-shell lobsters (more about these in Chapter 2) and we like to cook them in plain, unsalted water. Why cook the lobsters in seawater? They are salty enough. We don't like to bake them topped with seaweed, either, which tends to discolor the meat. In other words, when it comes to lobster, we're purists. But we also have been known to participate in a clambake, a traditional New England beach picnic that includes lobsters under seaweed, steamed clams, as well as other dishes. We like to take along clam chowder, coleslaw, and a blueberry pie to round out the meal, recipes which are included in the book. I love Linda's true feelings about putting on a clambake, which she wrote about on page 51!
We feel equally passionate about cranberries and blueberries. We have small, natural cranberry bogs on the island that don't produce enough cranberries for much more than cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving-and then only if you get there before the birds do-but it's fun to search for the red berries in the late fall. Luckily, there are wonderful cranberries from downstate and nearby Massachusetts that we happily consume.
The birds like our blueberries, too. These tiny treasures are more plentiful than cranberries on the island and it's a common summertime activity to pick them from the wild bushes that grow just about anywhere. If you've never eaten a Maine blueberry, you are in for a treat. They are smaller and more intense than the common, cultivated ones.
As I have said, there is more to New England cooking than lobster and cranberries, and a lot of it is here, seen through the prism of my experiences, prejudices, and enthusiasms. For example, you can cook a traditional New England-style Thanksgiving dinner from this book, make a Fourth of July picnic, throw a dinner party, or prepare a simple lunch for your kids. And why not? I've been doing it for years!
No island is an island. Even though we are a tiny community seven miles off the coast, we relish being part of Maine, and New England-and draw huge pleasure from our friends and family who live throughout the state and the region. In this book, we hope to introduce you to our island, our friends, our family, and of course, our food. --MG
Dick's Amazing Stuffed Clams
One of our favorite island summer activities is clam digging. We gather our clam hoes and clam roller (basket), drive over to the east side of the island, and walk out to the flats at Old Rich's Cove. Keeping our fingers crossed that the wind continues to blow the mosquitoes away, we proceed to happily dig ourselves a mess of clams. My good friend Dick Ames shared this recipe with me and I love it because it's so full of good clam and sausage flavor.
Makes 35 to 40 stuffed clams
If using clams in the shell, rinse them several times until free of any sand and put in a large saucepan. Add cold water to a depth of 2 inches. Cover the pan tightly and steam over high heat for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the clams open. Drain the clams and discard any that do not open. Reserve the steaming liquid.
- 20 quahog clams, at least 3 inches in diameter, or 2 cups chopped fresh or canned hard-shell clams, juices reserved
- 12 ounces Italian sausage (combination of sweet and hot), removed from casings and crumbled
- 8 ounces chorizo sausage, any casings removed
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 cup finely diced yellow onion
- 1/2 cup finely diced green bell pepper
- 1/2 cup finely diced celery
- 3 cups lightly seasoned crushed bread stuffing mix, plus additional if necessary (See Notes)
- At least 1/2 cup reserved clam broth or drained clam juices
Let the clams cool slightly, then remove the meat from the shells. Reserve the clamshells.
Transfer the clam meat to a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse until chopped. (If using purchased chopped clams, chop them finer in the food processor.)
In a large, preferably nonstick skillet, brown the Italian sausage over medium heat, breaking up with a wooden spoon into small chunks, about 10 minutes. Cut the chorizo into 1/2-inch lengths and pulse in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the chorizo to the skillet and cook, stirring, for another 3 minutes. Scrape the sausage into a bowl, leaving the drippings in the pan.
Add the butter to the skillet and melt over medium-high heat. Add the onion, pepper, and celery and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables soften. Add the 3 cups of stuffing mix, the chopped clams, the cooked sausage, and 1/2 cup reserved clam broth or juice. Use a large spoon or your hands to mix well, adding more bread crumbs or liquid as necessary to make a mixture that holds together when squeezed.
Lightly pack the clamshells with stuffing and place on baking sheets. Any leftover stuffing can be frozen. (Clams can be made a day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cover the baking sheets with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the stuffing is lightly browned, 10 to 20 more minutes.
I use Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix for the bread crumbs.
You will need some clamshells for this dish. I have a bunch that I save from year to year just so I'll have them for stuffed clams.
If you're not starting with fresh clams in the shell, you can use a pint of chopped fresh hard-shell clams in juice that are sold in the seafood department of most supermarkets.