An encounter with a camel’s head in a Libyan market set Maine cookbook author and artist Jean Ann Pollard on the road to health food.
As Pollard describes it, she was in an open-air market in Tripoli, where she and her husband, Peter, lived in the 1970s after they were first married. There, she witnessed a vendor cut off a camel’s head, which promptly fell into a pile of manure. Next, the vendor picked up the head, sprayed it with DDT and sold it to a customer.
For someone concerned about pollution and health, Pollard had a tough time getting this scene out of her mind.
“I thought, ‘There is pollution out there, but what is the one thing I can do to keep my family healthy?’ ” recalls Pollard, who is the mother of two grown children. “Well, cooking well is one thing. I researched vegetarian cooking after the camel incident, and we’ve ended up ovo-lacto vegetarian.”
Pollard, who grew up in Maine, learned to cook from scratch using seasonal ingredients from her mother and grandmother. Later, her travels and interest in international cuisine led her to source recipes from countries such as India, Mexico and Japan.
By the mid-1980s, Pollard was back in Maine and had created her own culinary repertoire that was a blend of traditional Maine cooking, global cuisine and recipes gathered from the growing health food movement.
She decided to collect her recipes, and in 1987 her cookbook, “The New Maine Cooking,” was published.
“My first publisher said it won’t sell in Maine if it’s vegetarian,” said Pollard, who lives in Winslow. “So I put in some chicken and lobster recipes.”
The book found an appreciative audience in Maine, where in the previous decade a wave of back-to-the-landers flocked to the state to carve out a more sustainable lifestyle centered around natural foods.
The cookbook went through a series of publishers, including Yankee Books, Rodale Press and Down East, before it finally slipped out of print.
But interest in the book remained, and Pollard continued to field inquiries from people hoping to track down a stray copy.
In response, she decided to reissue the book through Maine Authors Publishing & Cooperative, and it is now back on bookstore shelves.
Almost an exact copy of the original, the re-released “The New Maine Cooking” lacks the flashiness of today’s cookbooks but is filled with wholesome recipes made from real ingredients that are as relevant today as they were in 1987.
The book serves up hundreds of recipes, plus useful reference guides on topics ranging from whole grain cooking and harvesting seaweed to making your own sprouts and tapping maple trees.
It is illustrated with Pollard’s delicate ink drawings.
Recipes, which are arranged by season, include gems such as sorrel-sauced flounder; sauteed dandelion buds; stuffed day lily blossoms; whole-grain pocket bread; lemon broccoli stir-fry; fried green tomatoes with herbs; fresh corn polenta; red lentil burgers; rabbit with prunes; chili con tempeh; and stuffed pumpkin.
The book also offers recipes for making such vegetarian staples as tofu and seitan (which Pollard calls wheat meat).
At this time of year, Pollard and her husband base their meals around storage crops that include root vegetables, cabbage, apples and beans.
“I make our whole grain bread with lots of added grains,” Pollard said. “In summer, I can a lot, so we always have tomato sauce and canned string beans and canned carrots.”
With spring getting closer by the day, Pollard is anticipating the natural abundance that will soon sprout in untamed Maine fields and forests.
Like many Mainers, she’s fond of fiddleheads and dandelion greens. But she also seeks out violet leaves for soup and lamb’s quarters for salad.
Milkweed is another of Pollard’s favorite wild plants. She harvests milkweed shoots to eat like asparagus, tops to eat like spinach, florets to eat like broccoli and pods to use in stir fries.
Also like many of us, Pollard looks forward to the short time span when strawberries, in both their wild and cultivated form, make an appearance.
“I’ve always thought seasonal cooking was a wonderful way to eat,” said Pollard, “because you don’t always have strawberries, but when you do it’s exciting.”
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]