I’m embarrassed to say I first heard about Edith McCormick from her daughter Jan.

Why embarrassed? Because it turns out Edith – or Edie, as she is known to friends and family – is a neighbor. She lives at the other end of my long street, and I have often driven by her house with the really tall flagpole in front and wondered who lived there.

I live in the “Monopoly Board” neighborhood of North Deering, where all the streets are named after states and the houses are an eclectic mix of 1920s hip-roof colonials, post-World War II suburbia, and big, rambling abodes with all the modern conveniences. Like a lot of other too-busy Americans, I rarely interact with others in my neighborhood except to wave hello to joggers/dog walkers in the mornings as I head off to work. Or occasionally we might pause to chat over our snowblowers or lawn mowers. But it’s not like the neighborhood I grew up in, where I knew the names of every family on both sides of the street. So I was delighted when I learned where McCormick lived, and made plans to watch her make her signature dish, Danish Puffs. Bonus: I’d also learn about the neighborhood from someone who’s lived there for 56 years.

Danish Puff, a pastry topped with vanilla icing, chopped walnuts and chopped maraschino cherries, look as if it belongs on the cover of a food magazine from the 1950s or 1960s. McCormick, a retired nurse, first tasted it at one of the weekly neighborhood coffees she attended after she and her late husband, Jim, moved into their home in July 1960. Every Friday from 10 a.m. to noon, McCormick and four other ladies from the neighborhood gathered at one of their homes for coffee and treats – usually muffins or coffeecake – and to talk about their children and share neighborhood gossip. One of the ladies who attended was Ruth Libby, whose family later started Lib’s Dairy Treats, a popular soft-serve ice cream stand on Auburn Street.

“At one of our coffees, Ruth had made this, and oh my goodness I couldn’t wait to get the recipe and make it,” McCormick said.

FIT FOR COMPANY

From then on, the puffs made regular appearances at special events, McCormick’s daughter recalls – sometimes holidays, but also anniversary parties and wedding and baby showers.

“She didn’t make it just for the family,” Jan McCormick said. “First of all, it makes a lot. Second of all, it had that connotation that it was for company.”

The Danish Puff was always sliced and served on a silver tray, she said, “and it was quite fancy looking to us kids.”

I confess Edie McCormick reminds me a lot of my own mother, whose version of Danish Puff was a bowl of ambrosia. Indeed, as I watched McCormick cut the cold butter into the flour for the dough with a pastry cutter, I noticed she was using a green mixing bowl from a set exactly like one in my mother’s kitchen.

“Every once in a while you find a set of these at the antique stores and secondhand stores,” McCormick said.

As she mixed and we talked, I discovered other things we have in common. In a weird coincidence, it turns out her other daughter, Margie, lives just 20 minutes away from my parents in Tennessee. And when I spied an iPhone still in its box on her kitchen counter, I had to ask her about it. My mother wouldn’t be caught dead with a smartphone. She thinks they are a big waste of money and time.

Turns out McCormick’s family gave it to her for Christmas. She is perfectly happy with her regular cell phone, but once in a while it develops “a glitch” and she can’t make a call.

“Well, it ended up, ‘You need an iPhone,’ ” she said. Short pause, a lowering of the voice, then: “Like I need a hole in the head.”

After adding some ice-cold water to the dough, McCormick shaped it into two balls and then started rolling and squeezing it between her flour-dusted hands.

“It’s like milking a cow, isn’t it?” she said, chuckling.

She flattened the dough balls on a rimless baking sheet into two long batard shapes, 3 inches wide by 12 inches long.

While she worked on the top “puff” layer, she asked me if I make meringue cookies. She brought out some she had recently made, dotted with miniature chocolate chips. She bakes them just before retiring at night – heats the oven to 375 degrees F, puts in the meringues, then turns the oven off and leaves them there overnight. “That was a recipe that was very popular with my age group,” she said, “and good at teas.”

CLOTH NAPKINS AND CONVERSATION

After the puff layer was secured over the bottom pastry layer, the puffs were put into the oven to bake, and we retired to the dining room for coffee and slices of Danish Puff that McCormick had made earlier. Settling down with nice glass plates and cloth napkins, it felt as if we were reliving one of those 1960s neighborhood coffee klatches, or a scene from one of McCormick’s favorite shows, “Downton Abbey.” McCormick filled me in on a house on our street that I’d always been curious about. We talked about how things have changed over the years. Our neighborhood is known to be a great family neighborhood and fruitful trick-or-treating territory, but McCormick says she gave out half as many treats last year as she did the year before. The demographics have changed. There are still plenty of families, but also a lot more young, childless couples and singles like me. People work a lot, and are more isolated. Neighbors are harder to get to know.

“Folks moving in, I just never get to meet,” McCormick said. “I find passers-by are more friendly than my neighbors. It’s becoming more and more what the culture is.”

But at nearly age 87, McCormick stays busy with volunteer work and church work. (When her three children were young, she worked Saturday shifts at her nursing job but refused to go in on Sundays because she knew her husband wouldn’t take them to church.)

McCormick still likes to cook – especially fish, and especially her favorite seafood Newburg – but she prefers baking. Jan McCormick calls her mother a “cookie monster,” and says those lucky enough to receive them should know they are “a gesture of love.” McCormick regularly bakes cookies for church, for funeral receptions, and for the men who do her snowblowing and yardwork.

The neighborhood coffees ended when the children reached school age and the women found other things to do. McCormick went back to nursing. One woman got interested in antiques, and another started working in a business office at Maine Med.

McCormick and I ended our coffee with wrapped Danish Puff to go and neighborly promises to keep in touch.

DANISH PUFF

Since this recipe makes 2 long puffs, you can freeze extras.

FOR THE PASTRY BOTTOM:

1/2 cup butter

1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

2 tablespoons ice-cold water

Cut the butter into the flour until fine crumbs. Add the water and beat by hand until mixture forms a ball and leaves the sides of the bowl. Divide the dough in half. Press each half onto an ungreased cookie sheet to form a shape 3 x 12 inches. Set the pastry bottoms 2 to 3 inches apart.

FOR THE PUFF:

1/2 cup butter

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Put the butter and 1 cup water in a saucepan and bring to boil over high heat. Add the extract. Remove from heat. Add the flour all at once. Beat until the mixture forms a ball in saucepan. Let the mixture rest for 10 minutes, then add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well between each. Divide the puff mixture in half and spread evenly over the pastry bottoms. Bring the puff layer over the edges of the pastry and seal well. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour.

FOR THE VANILLA ICING:

1/2 to 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

2 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons milk or cream

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Chopped walnuts

Chopped Maraschino cherries

Cream together the sugar and butter. Add the milk and extract. Beat. Ice the puffs while they are still warm. Decorate with walnuts and cherries.