September 12, 2012

Soup to Nuts: New Maine-centric cookbooks earn place in pantry

These are heady times for the local food scene. Case in point: Three slick new Maine-authored cookbooks.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

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Tara Smith sifts flour into a brownie mixture at Standard Baking Co. in Portland. “Standard Baking Co. Pastries” by Smith and Alison Pray is due out on Oct. 15. The book features many of Standard Baking’s most popular items with photography by Sean Alonzo Harris.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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From the cooks at Standard Baking comes Triple Chocolate Cake.

Sean Alonzo Harris, from Standard Baking Co. Pastries, reprinted with permission from Down East Books

Additional Photos Below

Pray agrees that the croissant recipe is probably "the most intimidating recipe in the book," but even that one should be accessible enough to make at home. She gave her scaled-down recipe to a friend in Massachusetts who is an avid home baker, and let him have at it.

"He was really dying to get his hands on the croissant recipe to try it out, and he did several baking experiments using our instructions," Pray said. "He had a lot of good feedback, and he had excellent results. So I do feel like it's written in language that even a beginner home baker could attempt."

Overall, Pray says she hopes the book "conveys a feeling of our attitude about our work and the enjoyment we take in it."

Yes, it does, but if you're considering picking this book up, be careful: As you read it, you'll start to have intense cravings for morning buns.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

"STANDARD BAKING CO. PASTRIES" by Alison Pray and Tara Smith (Down East Books, $29.95). Publication date Oct. 15. Available now for preorder on

FOR MORE of my conversation with Alison Pray, and to get the recipe for Molasses Spice Cookies, click here.


SANDY OLIVER says she is "sick and tired" of hearing that nobody cooks anymore.

"People do too cook," she said in an interview from her home on Islesboro. "They don't think they're cooking, but they are cooking. Between the big, glossy food magazines, and the food channel and other kids of things, not to mention advertising - advertising constantly tries to shoot down home cooking because they want you to buy premade products - everyone's got this idea that nobody's cooking anymore. Well, maybe they aren't in New York, but they sure are in Maine."

Oliver's new book, "Maine Home Cooking," is full of evidence that Mainers are, indeed, spending time in their kitchens. It's just that the definition of cooking has changed.

People don't think that throwing a chicken in the oven to roast and serving it with a side of potatoes is cooking anymore, Oliver argues. They think they have to deglaze the pan and make a fancy, chef-worthy sauce as well.

Oliver's new book contains recipes for simple foods cooked simply, like baked bean soup and haddock casserole. Oliver includes all the classic Down East dishes (lobster stew, tourtiere, brown bread) as well as a chapter on seasonal foods (crispy kale chips, strawberry spinach salad) and one on preserving the harvest (dilly green beans, pickled beets).

Oliver brings us into her 19th-century home and her rustic kitchen, which hasn't changed much since the 1940s. We see what's in her own pantry, and read about what she grows in her 2,000-square-foot garden.

The book is laced with Oliver's feisty sense of humor, as well as historical tidbits that explain the origins of dishes such as chess cake and finnan haddie. Most of the recipes came from readers of Oliver's food column in the Bangor Daily News; others are recipes she's asked for when she's tasted a dish she loved at a potluck or other community gathering.

Yes, a prolific cook like Oliver has a million recipes for dishes like blueberry pie, but she didn't have to test every single one to know which ones she wanted to include in the book.

"Some of them I'm dead certain on because I make them all the time," she said. "They're my favorite ways of fixing blueberry pie, for example, or this is the crisp I always use for everything, I don't care what kind of crisp it is. Or this is how I always make finnan haddie. This is how I always do lobster stew."

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Additional Photos

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Standard Baking's Rustic Apple Tart.

Sean Alonzo Harris, from Standard Baking Co. Pastries, reprinted with permission from Down East Books

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