Aren’t we lucky to have Sandra Oliver, who is one of the country’s pre-eminent food historians, living right here in Maine – on Islesboro, as a matter of fact?
Although she researches and writes about all aspects of American food history, residence here in our part of the world means that she naturally focuses much of her attention on Maine foodways.
A few years ago, Oliver started writing a column for a Maine newspaper called “Taste Buds,” wherein she solicits recipes – some new, some old – from readers.
Those recipes (plus some of her own) have just been gathered and published as “Maine Home Cooking: 175 Recipes from Down East Kitchens,” (Down East Books, 2012), and a wonderful compendium it is – not just for its historical significance but also for its delightful prose and fascinating look at what home cooks around the state have actually been doing in their kitchens for the past several decades.
Here are two recipes from the book.
WHITE CHICKEN FRICASSEE
Apparently there are two kinds of fricassee, a white one and a brown one.
Hannah Allen from Bangor pointed out that a quick version of this can be made with good old cream of mushroom soup fortified with canned mushrooms. Allen turns the fricassee into a tetrazinni by serving it over spaghetti and topping it with Parmesan cheese.
Fricassee is a good way to warm up leftover roasted chicken. The recipe works well with turkey, too. But if you have chicken quarters or a split breast or three lying around and you don’t know what to do with them, fricassee from scratch isn’t hard at all.
In fact, you can keep your crock pot (er, slow cooker) employed for a while with this one.
Servings: Four to five
5 pounds of chicken breasts and thighs, or a whole chicken cut up
3 cups of water or chicken broth
1 carrot, 1 stalk of celery and 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of flour
Salt and pepper
Milk or cream (optional)
Put the chicken into a deep, heavy-bottomed pot with the water or broth, and the carrot, celery, and onion. Bring just to boiling, then reduce the temperature and allow them to simmer without boiling for about 2 hours, until the meat is tender. Take the meat out of the cooking liquid, and, if you wish, remove the skin and bones, and discard them.
In another heavy pan, melt the butter, and add the flour into it, stirring with a whisk until it bubbles. Gradually stir some of the cooking broth into the flour and butter mixture, whisking until you have smooth, thick gravy.
Cook it, thinning it with milk or cream, until it is the consistency of sauce. Taste, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, or any herbs you favor. Add the meat and warm it through in this mixture before serving it over your choice of starch.
ADVICE: Feel free to jazz this with garlic, thyme and parsley. A splash of sherry toward the end is good.
If you want to veg it up a bit, add peas, shredded spinach, even cut green beans or broccoli. Serve it on top of toast, baked potato, noodles, rice or biscuits.
This recipe sneaks another sort of whole grain into our diet besides oatmeal and brown rice.
I found it in an old James Beard cookbook that someone gave me, lo, 40 years ago when I started living on my own. The cover and title page are long gone, and half the index has fallen off. I still can locate the barley recipe though.
You can jazz it up, of course. It calls for onion, and there are always mushrooms, celery and parsley. It is brainlessly simple to make and I extended the method to wheat berries, whole wheat grains. At times I use some of each.
It comes out pretty beige, so consider serving it with something green on it, like snipped chives, or parsley or scallions. Toasted almonds or some toasted seeds like sunflower or pumpkin seeds are a nice touch.
2 to 4 tablespoons of butter and/or olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup of pearl barley
2 cups of broth, chicken or beef, or water
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350. Melt the butter in a heavy pan and saute the onion in it until the onion is soft. Add the barley and brown it a little, then put the barley into a buttered baking dish, and add one cup of the broth and the salt and pepper.
Bake for about 25 minutes, and when the liquid has been absorbed, add the second cup of broth or water. Bake for another 20 minutes or until that liquid is absorbed, too. Garnish to taste.
Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Lobster!” (Storey, 2012). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula, and can be contacted via Facebook at: facebook.com/brookedojny