If you like sour cream, pancakes, clam chowder and that Yankee staple known as the New England boiled dinner, you can thank the Scotch-Irish settlers who sailed into Casco Bay nearly 300 years ago.

So says Mary Drymon, a South Portland historian and museum educator who is trying to enlighten Mainers about the 2018 anniversary of the immigration through a new book, “Scotch-Irish Foodways in America: Recipes from History.”

The book includes lots of traditional Scotch-Irish recipes that Drymon has personally tested at least three times – on  a wood stove, a modern stove and over an open hearth – to be sure they are both authentic and edible.

There are eats in the book that you are sure to recognize, and others that you surely won’t.

If you were living in the Maine wilderness in the 18th century, what would you rather have eaten: Mackerel marinated in cider vinegar, black tea and spices? How about herrings in oatmeal? Or maybe you’d subsist on stump, which is a hearty, thick puree of potatoes, rutabagas and carrots.

Not all of the recipes are so, um, rustic. There’s also Scotch-Irish versions of New England clam chowder and shepherd’s pie, and a bacon and squash soup that sounds like a delicious way to ward off a winter chill. Drymon includes recipes for rosehip and blackberry wines, and a rhubarb custard. The Scotch-Irish, it turns out, are the ones who brought rhubarb to America.

Drymon, who is working on her doctorate at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, got interested in Scotch-Irish cooking because of her own Scotch-Irish ancestry and her food history work at various museums. She finds it ironic that there were fewer than 300 Pilgrims who landed on American shores “and we know the whole Pilgrim story” but not much at all about the Scotch-Irish immigrants who started coming to New England in 1718.

“There were 200,000 of them that came over,” Drymon said. “It’s a huge group that emigrated by the American Revolution.”

Historical records are unclear about where the Scotch-Irish landed in Maine. Some sources say they came ashore in the Willard Beach area of South Portland, while others say the landing spot was “across from Clark’s Point,” Drymon said.

“They’re not exactly sure where they spent that first winter,” she said. “The Scotch-Irish were invited to New England by Cotton Mather, but when they got here what they wanted them to do was move up to Maine so that they could be a buffer between the native Americans and Massachusetts. They shipped them up to Casco Bay with basically nothing, and very little provisions.”

Documents from Richmond Island link the Scotch-Irish with one of their staple foods, bonny clabber, a cultured dairy food made from raw milk that is the ancestor of modern products such as cottage cheese, cream cheese and sour cream.

And Drymon found lots of history about Scotch-Irish immigrants sharing potatoes with their English neighbors, who didn’t understand at first that the edible part grows under ground.

The Scotch-Irish likely added the potatoes to clam chowder, Drymon said. Their oat cakes evolved into our pancakes, their Scotch pies into modern pot pies. They preferred boiling over baking, and so helped develop the traditional New England boiled dinner.

Drymon’s book is called “Scotch-Irish Foodways in America,” and so it also covers dishes still made by many southern grandmothers – sawmill gravy, cornbread stuffing, hush puppies, corn pone.

If these foods are Scotch-Irish as well, why aren’t we eating things like grits and red-eye gravy here in Maine?

It’s partly due to available ingredients; you use what the landscape provides. But it’s also because the Maine immigrants were more integrated with other settlers here in New England, Drymon said, while the Scotch-Irish who settled in the south tended to get marginalized, and so were able to hang on to more of their traditional foodways.

“The Scotch-Irish in the south got kind of filtered out to the back country, and they were more ethnically themselves, separate from the rest of us,” Drymon said. “In New England, their culture had to be sort of dampened down by the Puritans that they had to live with. It changed them. And then once they won the Civil War, there was a real disconnect between the northern and southern branches, I think.”

Drymon has started something she calls the “1718 Project” that she hopes will teach Mainers more about the history of their Scotch-Irish ancestors. She envisions museum programs and exhibits on the Scotch-Irish culture, including food, and is looking for people and organizations to contribute ideas and be partners in the effort.

One of Drymon’s own ideas came from statues she’s seen in northern Ireland and Highland Scotland dedicated to the Scotch-Irish. The statue in Ireland shows a family about to embark on their long journey to America.

Drymon would like to see the conclusion of their journey represented by a statue here.

“I think it would be nice to have that family arriving here in Maine,” she said.


Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]