What’s For Dinner? Beans, Chowder, Lobster (and More Beans)

Family recipes from all 16 counties fill the pages of the Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook.

Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook
By Will Grunewald

Margaret Hathaway and Karl Schatz thought that collecting 200 recipes from fellow Mainers made good sense for a cookbook celebrating Maine’s 200th birthday. Then, they received almost 400 submissions from across the state’s 16 counties, and they couldn’t bring themselves to cut half. So, for good measure, the Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook wound up with a couple dozen more recipes than planned, even though its price — $20.20 — still suits the occasion.

Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook
Courtesy of Islandport Press

Hathaway and Schatz, who run a family farm in Gray, previously teamed up on a couple of cookbooks that sourced dishes from the past decade’s wave of chefy Portland restaurants. Community cookbooks, on the other hand, go way back, and they’re not fancy. Since at least the middle 1800s, small-town residents across the country have pooled and published family recipes to fundraise for local fire departments, churches, schools. A statewide community cookbook is somewhat of an oxymoron, of course, and some contents are on the headier side (including a foreword by Governor Janet Mills and a handful of scholarly essays on topics such as Wabanaki food traditions), but the bicentennial project still has an everyman’s ethos and a charitable bent (Maine organizations that tackle food insecurity get $2 from every sale).

And true to genre, the book provides a colorful snapshot of places, people, and history, via short  personal stories that accompany the recipes and tell about toting wax-paper–wrapped whoopie pies to work in the potato fields or recreating the spicy meatball subs a grandmother used to make to sell at fairs during the Great Depression. “The recipes aren’t really the most important thing,” Schatz says. “The most important things are the stories and the sentiments behind the recipes.” 

Contributions run the gamut, from Senator Susan Collins’s mom’s blueberry muffins to Laotian émigré and Bethel food-stand owner Sav Sengsavang’s chilled green-curry soup with asparagus and lobster. Family specialties (Schatz contributed a meat knish recipe from his great-grandmother, who ran a kosher catering business in Portland) mingle with Maine staples (like lobster mac and cheese and Acadian chicken stew). And, Hathaway notes, the book contains an abundance of ideas about baked beans: “A lot of them are variations on a theme, but we finally just gave a whole section to beans because we got so many different recipes for them.”

Did Somebody Mention Beans? 

Martha Hadley, from Fort Fairfield, submitted her family’s recipe for Baked Yellow Eye Beans to the Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook.

Martha Hadley sent in a recipe for beans, plus this early-1900s photo of her grandmother (back row, second from left) at a family picnic in the County, at which beans were most likely served.

“Growing up on a farm in northern Maine meant being resourceful and managing a household on a strict budget. Baked beans were an inexpensive and healthy way to feed a large family. Every Saturday, my mom would make a batch of homemade bread and a batch of baked yellow eye beans for Saturday night supper. Often, there were beans left over for Sunday brunch, either reheated or served cold on a piece of bread. When I grew up and moved to Ohio, I had trouble finding yellow eye beans in the grocery store, so my mom, who still lives in Fort Fairfield, started giving them to me for my birthday!”

2½ cups yellow eye beans (~ ½ bag) 
3 tablespoons molasses 
4 tablespoons (½ stick) margarine 
1 teaspoon dry mustard 
1 teaspoon salt 
3 tablespoons brown sugar 
¼ cup chopped onion 

Wash dry beans in cold water and drain. Place beans in a saucepan, and just barely cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer on low heat for about 1 hour. Add remaining ingredients and stir gently. Pour into bean pot, cover with foil. Bake at 300 degrees for 3–4 hours, checking periodically to make sure there’s still liquid in the pot for the beans to cook in. Serve on Saturday night with red hot dogs, fried onions, and homemade bread! 

The COVID-19 pandemic posed logistical challenges as Hathaway and Schatz put finishing touches on the Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook: 200 Recipes Celebrating Maine’s Culinary Past, Present & Future (Islandport Press, soft cover), but they expect it will land on local bookshelves in the second half of June, and it will also be available from islandportpress.com and other online retailers.