There’s nothing more inviting than an old cookbook. The pages give you recipes, of course, but they also are a poetic microcosm of culture, of a place and its people and its food.
When I stumbled upon New England Cookbook at an antique store, I was first intrigued by its retro teal cover. It was written by Eleanor Early and published by Random House in 1954. While not that ancient, it did offer a glimpse into the cooking of an earlier era. I bought it immediately.
The book sat between Ina Garten’s Back to Basics and The Joy of Cooking for a month. I picked it up a few nights ago and found myself reading passages aloud and smiling — especially when I would get to the handwritten commentary peppered throughout. Some of the recipes are outrageous (fried stuffed cucumbers), some simple (boiled dinner). The headnotes add a rich history of New England, albeit from a fairly protestant perspective.
Here’s a recipe for a variation of what us French-Canadians might call Toutiere. (Note the cooking time and the apparently home-located meat grinder.)
Lumberjack Pie (From New England Cookbook by Eleanor Early, Random House, 1954.)
In northern Maine the original filling for lumberjack pie was deer meat. Pies were baked by the dozen and then frozen, and lumberjacks toted them into the woods to heat and eat when they wished. Lumberjack pies are served for a middle-of-the-night party on Christmas Eve and also on New Year’s Day — always hot and accompanied by a sharp relish. This recipe makes enough filling for 12 pies.
5-6 lbs. fresh pork shoulder
5-6 lbs. chuck beef
6 large onions
Celery, outer stalks of 1 bunch (optional)
¼ cup salt
1 tsp. pepper
3 tbsps. Cinnamon
12 potatoes cooked and mashed
1 qt. meat stock (liquid in which meat is cooked)
- Simmer, covered, pork and beef in water to cover, with bouquet garni of parsley, basil, onion studded with cloves, oregano and rosemary until meat falls from bones, 4 to 5 hours. Reserve stock.
- Cool meat. Trim and discard all fat. Run meat through the grinder with onions and celery. Season with salt, pepper, sage, and cinnamon.
- Combine mashed potatoes with ground meat. Add enough of the meat liquor to make mixture the consistency of mincemeat. Store in refrigerator until needed.
- Bake like a mince pie, between two rich pastry crusts.