In New Jersey, where I spent much of my adult life before moving to Maine two years ago, diners are a beloved institution. Mostly owned by multigenerational Greek families and open 24 hours a day, Jersey diners are where teenagers hang out after dances and football games, dads take their kids for breakfast on weekend mornings, and senior citizens go for dinner dishes that are familiar and reasonably priced. The menus are huge – offering everything from pancakes to prime rib, and so are the portions. Towering cakes and pies, prominently displayed in glass cases, look like they were baked for Paul Bunyan.

The diners featured in “The New England Diner Cookbook” by Mike Urban, are a different branch of the species. New England, specifically Rhode Island, is where diners originated, as “lunch wagons that catered to third-shift factory workers, newspapermen, and other night owls,” Urban writes in his introduction.

For those interested in diners, there’s an education to be had by perusing this book. In addition to recipes, it has detail-rich profiles of 25 iconic diners representing all five New England states, including six in Maine: A1 in Gardiner, Maine Diner in Wells, Moody’s in Waldoboro, Ruth and Wimpy’s in Hancock, Becky’s in Portland and Palace Diner in Biddeford (under its previous owners).

With its trove of recipes for old-timey dishes such as American chop suey, chicken pot pie and Indian pudding, Urban’s book will please fans of diner food – if they have some experience in the kitchen. Hankering for the famous Lobster Pie from Maine Diner? You’ll find a recipe here, along with Moody’s iconic Four-Berry Pie and Becky’s Haddock Chowdah (yes, that’s the way it’s written on the menu).

I chose another popular item on Becky’s menu – Blueberry Cake. It differs from the more typical coffee cake-like Maine blueberry cake in that it is baked in layers and slathered with a rich, sweet cream cheese frosting. Like all the recipes in “The New England Diner Cookbook,” it’s heavy and hearty. But it’s packed with Maine’s famous wild blueberries, and very tasty.



I adapted this recipe quite a bit. The original called for shortening in the cake; I much prefer butter. The instructions said to thaw frozen blueberries before using them, which would have resulted in a messy, purple batter (the batter is stiff and it’s tricky to fold even frozen berries in without getting streaks of purple). The instructions also did not specify combining the flour with the baking powder, and adding those ingredients alternatively with the milk – standard practice for making cake batter and one that makes it easier to mix. The frosting recipe called for 2 cups of cream cheese, which I adjusted to two 8-ounce packages. I also increased the amount of vanilla in the frosting from 2 teaspoons to 3 and added orange rind, because without it, the frosting was bland. Finally, I made the instructions more specific, so that less-experienced bakers might still be able to make this delicious cake.


4 cups fresh or frozen wild Maine blueberries (if frozen, do not thaw)

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for tossing with the blueberries

4 eggs, separated

2¼ cups sugar, divided


1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 teaspoons baking powder

cup milk



1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3 to 3½ cups confectioners’ sugar

Grated rind of 1 orange (optional)

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans, tapping out excess flour.


In a medium bowl, toss the blueberries with about a tablespoon of flour to coat. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, beat the egg whites until foamy. With the beaters running, sprinkle in ¼ cup sugar; beat until stiff peaks form. Transfer the egg whites to another clean, dry bowl.

Add the butter to the mixer bowl (no need to wash it first) and with the beaters running, gradually add the remaining 2 cups sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add the salt, vanilla and egg yolks, mix well.

Combine the flour and baking powder and add to the butter mixture alternatively with the milk, combining well after each addition.

Fold in the egg whites until fully combined.

By hand using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the blueberries (don’t worry if they are not uniformly mixed in, they will spread out as the cake bakes).

Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans, smoothing the tops.


Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, in the bowl of an electric stand mixer, beat the butter with the cream cheese until well combined. Beat in the vanilla.

Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar until the icing is a spreadable consistency. Add the orange zest, if using.

After frosting the cake, allow it to chill in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before slicing.

Note: This recipe was updated at 10 a.m. on March 4 to include the instructions for folding the egg whites into the cake batter.

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