October 3, 2010

Author Q&A: Someone's in the kitchen with Marjorie

Acclaimed chef Melissa Kelly lends a ham -- make that Pork Saltimbocca -- and more for the reissuing of Marjorie's Standish's classic 'Cooking Down East.'

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

For 25 years, Marjorie Standish wrote a food column for this newspaper called "Cooking Down East."

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Chef Melissa Kelly

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Marjorie Standish

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WHAT: Book launch for "Cooking Down East" and "Good Maine Food"

WHEN: 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 20

WHERE: The Danforth, 163 Danforth St., Portland


INFO: www.downeast.com/danforth

Three hundred and fifty of her classic Maine recipes were compiled in book form in 1969, and "Cooking Down East" soon became the state's best-selling cookbook. Over the years, Standish's fans -- and they are legion -- have bought more than 100,000 copies.

Standish, who died in 1998 at age 90, taught a generation of cooks the value of using local ingredients and of keeping things simple. She knew the importance of keeping heritage recipes alive, and wrote eloquently about food's role in our memory and culture. In the foreword to her book, she evokes the sounds "of your mother chopping red flannel hash in a heavy black spider; the clank of the metal spoon as she cleaned out the last of the frosting; the rattle as the lid was removed from a jar of pickles just brought from the cellar."

But Standish was also a product of her times. In addition to classic seafood stews and chowders made with simple ingredients, she included recipes that used popular convenience products such as Cheez Whiz, bottled steak sauce and the seasoning Accent.

Now Standish's cookbook has been reissued, but with a delicious twist. Chef Melissa Kelly of the Rockland restaurant Primo, a James Beard award winner who also runs restaurants in Orlando and Tucson, has joined Standish in her kitchen.

It's one of two reissues of cookbooks from Down East this year. The other is "Good Maine Food" by Marjorie Mosser, which has been updated by food historian Sandra Oliver.

The new "Cooking Down East" (Down East, $27.95) includes more than a dozen recipes from Kelly, as well as her tips for updating Standish's recipes. Standish's recipe for Crispy Oven Chicken, for example, calls for a stick of margarine and three cups of Rice Krispies. In a margin note, Kelly suggests using panko bread crumbs and butter instead.

Standish offers her mother's recipe for cream of tartar biscuits; right next to it, Kelly has published the recipe for James Beard's Cream Biscuits. And next to Standish's Porcupine Meatballs is Kelly's Pork Saltimbocca, which she says is "probably the most popular dish at Primo."

The Maine Sunday Telegram recently spoke with Kelly about what it was like to "work" with the renowned Maine food writer.

Q: You lead an awfully busy life with three restaurants and your farm at Primo to run. How did you find the time to work on this cookbook?

A: You know, there's always time to do something that you enjoy. I do have a very crazy schedule. Kathleen Fleury, who's the girl I worked with at Down East publications, really facilitated it with me, and she was great. She got me before my crazy season really kicked in here.

I knew the book. I always like to have one foot in the past and one foot in the future with food, so it was the perfect project for me to delve into and have some fun with. Instead of writing a book from scratch, revising a book is totally do-able. 

Q: Had you cooked from this book before? Had you read it?

A: I haven't cooked from it before, but usually I don't cook from cookbooks. I just kind of peruse them and then take snippets of ideas or classic recipes and try and update them, which is what we basically did with the book. 

Q: Do you feel like you learned a lot about Marjorie Standish while you were working on this project?

A: You know, it's a generational thing. I learned a lot about that time. In the forward, I said that just when Marjorie was putting this book out, it was such a different day with food in this country and for women in this country. It's interesting for me to see the transformation from then till now. She talks about a lot of convenience products, canned products, margarine, and just different things that I would never use today.

(Continued on page 2)

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