Betsy Wish spent the pandemic researching recipes and interviewing Kittery residents to create a cookbook for the town’s 375th anniversary. The cookbook has recipes dating back to the 1600s, including one for pigeon pie. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

In the spring of 2020, just as the pandemic arrived, plans were underway in Kittery for a notable milestone: the 375th anniversary of Maine’s oldest town.

Betsy Wish, 74, had just finished making and showing a documentary about the impact of climate change on local lobstermen and needed a new project. She had settled in the coastal town in 2007 after retiring from teaching and threw herself into connecting with the community. An avid kayaker, she was known for baking cookies and muffins to hand to lobstermen as she paddled by their boats.

With that connection between food and community in mind, and the pandemic isolation stretching out before her, she decided to compile a cookbook featuring the people who have lived in Kittery over the centuries and the food that has been significant in their lives.

The resulting book, “Kittery’s Maine Ingredients: Celebrating 375 Years of Cooking in Maine’s Oldest Town,” turned out to be much more than a simple cookbook.

It weaves together recipes that date back to the 1600s, paints touching portraits of the men and women who lived in the town and brought together today’s residents, at a time when that meant so much, by reviving memories of the food and people who had made impressions on their lives.

The recipes include pigeon pie and brain sauce, made in the 1800s, to the hot buttery yeast rolls baked by Dorothy Ferguson for students at the Frisbee School 50 years ago. And then there are the classics and local favorites: lobster casserole, seafood chowders, molasses cookies, blueberry cake.


The book also highlights the Indigenous people who lived on the spot first and the largely unknown history of Hazel and Clayton Sinclair, who ran a resort for Black tourists at a time when they were not allowed to stay in regular hotels.

“I don’t think anybody except longtime members of the town could really comprehend how extraordinary (the book) is,” said Charlene Hoyt, a lifelong resident who shared recipes for Grammie Hoyt’s molasses cookies and the Polish galumpki (stuffed cabbage rolls) that her nana, Mary Gaiko Wakefield, often made.


Kittery, like many towns in southern Maine, is grappling with change as real estate prices rise and new residents move from out of state. That, Wish said, makes it all the more important to maintain connections to the past and the community’s identity.

“I saw the book as a way of preserving our local history through stories about food and recipes,” she said.

Indigenous people lived in what is now Kittery for thousands of years before Europeans arrived around 1600. Members of the Armouchiquois Tribe – the Abenaki living along the coast south of the Saco River – hunted and fished and grew corn, beans and squash, according to the Kittery Historical & Naval Museum.


Between 1616 and 1619, as Europeans moved into the area and several epidemics swept through coastal tribes, many of the Armouchiquois were pushed off the land or died. Now, little is known about them.

The town was settled by the English by 1623 and was most likely named after the Kittery Court manor house in the village of Kingswear on the River Dart in Devon.

Kittery was incorporated in 1647, making it the first town in what is now Maine. In 1652, Kittery and neighboring York agreed under threat from an armed militia to submit to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a move that set the border between the two towns (and later led to a dispute about its exact location).

Like other towns along the Maine coast, Kittery became an early center for shipbuilding, a tradition that continues with the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Later, Kittery would become notable as the gateway to Maine – the first stop for many visiting the state and a popular spot for shopping and dining.


Wish has always loved how memory and food intertwine, and how specific what you eat often is to where you live and when. The pandemic brought those thoughts to the surface as she watched many people adjust to isolating and preparing their own food at home.


Her cookbook project started with conversations with the lobstermen she befriended and turned into hours spent combing through old cookbooks as she tried to get a sense of the way food had evolved in Kittery.

She knew the recipes she chose needed to go all the way back to the area’s earliest inhabitants. But there was very little local documentation about what Indigenous people of the area ate. So she turned to Abenaki tribe members and historians for information about the types of food that would have been cooked in that region.

They provided a wealth of information about the significance of food in Abenaki culture and recipes including three sisters soup and quahog clambake. Paul and Denise Pouliot of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki People offered up a recipe for a stew of bones, meat scraps, corn, beans, rice and roots traditionally prepared when supplies were low as winter drew to a close.

Wish received a $1,000 mini grant from the Maine Humanities Council out of money set aside for projects that bring attention to the Indigenous population.

To find recipes from colonial times, Wish turned to cookbooks published by churches across New England. Their recipes – for dishes like fish chowder, johnny cakes and molasses doughnuts – relied heavily on the ingredients available locally at the time they were written.

Some of the recipes in Betsy Wish’s Kittery cookbook from the old Appledore Cook Book, lent to her by a friend. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Using a cookbook published in 1872, Wish found recipes that might make modern cooks squirm. Calf’s head and pluck involves boiling the head and making a brain sauce with herbs. A pigeon pie is prepared with stewed pigeons cooked in a deep earthen dish.


Wish had no shortage of modern recipes to choose from.

After she combed through the old local church cookbooks, she researched the women who submitted recipes. Most had died, but obituaries led her to children and grandchildren who were eager to provide details and photos of their loved ones. The connections she made deepened her appreciation of the community and landed her a new crew of “90-year-old girlfriends” who invited her into their homes to talk about Kittery and its recipes.

Hoyt, who shared her grandmother’s recipe, was amazed at how Wish was able to capture people’s lives in just a few sentences. In the cookbook, the recipe for galumpki includes the story of how Hoyt’s great-grandparents immigrated from Poland in 1912 and how their daughter (Hoyt’s grandmother) settled in Kittery, where she was married for 65 years to a man who worked at the shipyard.

“She was able to summarize in a very powerful way the importance of her in our history,” Hoyt said.

Mary Carter, a 71-year-old resident with connections to Kittery that go back generations, showed Wish cookbooks from the congregational church in Kittery Point. She used old church directories to find some of the photos Wish included with recipes.

In the town Facebook group, Wish posted requests for recipes and for more information about people who had lived in town long ago. What she wrote often prompted lively discussions about the past – the hot lunches served in schools,  local stores and restaurants now long gone, the cookies that one grandmother was famous for baking. Wish included many of those comments in the book.


“It really brought people together. It just needed to be done,” Carter said. “And what a neat way to do it. It’s not your typical little church cookbook that some group put together.”


As Wish delved into town history, she grew intrigued by Rock Rest, a small house on Route 103 in Kittery Point once owned by Hazel and Clayton Sinclair. She had heard people allude to its history – and as she learned more about what happened there, she knew she needed to find some of Hazel Sinclair’s recipes.

The Sinclairs met and fell in love in the  area, where he worked as a chauffeur for one summer family and she was a lady’s maid for another. They married in 1936 and bought what would become Rock Rest.

Back then, de facto segregation was still the reality and Black tourists were often refused hotel rooms, meals and fill-ups on gas.

The Sinclairs, who were Black, opened their home as an inn for Black tourists, eventually expanding to accommodate as many as 16 guests. Hazel Sinclair cooked and served meals.


“The Sinclairs really flew under the radar. Not a lot of people knew about what was going on there,” Wish said.

Many locals didn’t know that Black tourists were being turned away from hotels and most didn’t know the Sinclairs were running an inn.

They were well-known around town, where Clayton Sinclair worked at the shipyard and served as a deacon at the Baptist church. Hazel Sinclair sang in the church choir, worked as a caterer and was a member of the League of Women Voters. She delivered fudge and baked goods to neighbors and was known at church for her “copper pennies,” carrots glazed in brown sugar, butter and orange zest.

The Sinclairs ran Rock Rest until after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which put an end, at least legally, to turning Black people away. The house, with a rock that bears its name out front, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is on the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail, and is open to visitors once annually.

To find out more about the Sinclairs – and especially what Hazel liked to cook – Wish turned first to the Smithsonian, which houses artifacts from the home. An archivist there then directed her to the University of New Hampshire, where she found files of letters, guestbooks and cookbooks.

“It was really exciting. That’s where I found some of her original handwritten recipes,” Wish said.


The section of the book focused on Rock Rest includes photos of the Sinclairs, their home and visitors who stayed there. Wish included images of handwritten recipe cards, a passage Hazel wrote about her life and 15 recipes from her cookbooks, including the copper pennies, her famous fudge and the oyster soup she served to guests.

Despite growing up in Kittery, Hoyt was not familiar with the history of Rock Rest. She’d driven by the rock out front countless times, but never thought much about it.

“Now I can’t drive by the rock without really having my heart tugged at a little bit for how powerful and important it was to the people in this community,” she said.

Wish’s cookbook, she said, showed her its significance.

The cookbook is available in Kittery at the community center, Lil’s Cafe, Maine Meat, Provisions at Pepperell Cove, Beach Pea Bakery and the Kittery Art Association for $24.95. Proceeds will go to local nonprofits, including those focused on food insecurity. 

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