Outdoors in Maine: This one is for the ‘Bread Ladies’

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As you get on in years you’ll discover many new things about yourself — I mean besides wrinkled skin and age spots. Some things in your life take on a different perspective: food, for example. The question, “What’s for dinner?” seems more important than it might have been a few decades ago.

So it only follows that the preparers of this food will rank high up there in your hierarchy of important people in your life.

When I was a kid, my mother made homemade yeast bread and rolls every Saturday to accompany the baked bean ritual. She mixed the bread up the day before and let is rise overnight. The next morning, after she got the bean pot in the oven, she would lop off a glob of the rising, uncooked bread with a knife, flatten it some and slow fry it in a lightly salted iron skillet. Topped with real creamery butter, it was the best English muffin I’ve ever had to this day.

Health nuts notwithstanding, there is something very special about homemade bread. Whoever said that, “it fills the stomach as well as the soul,” must have been talking about my mother’s shredded ­wheat yeast bread.

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There are other bread ladies in my life.

As most successful sporting camp operators will tell you, providing good food for hungry sports is half the battle. When sporting camp operators Ellen and Matt Libby hired Diane and I to manage and cook at their Riverkeep fishing lodge in Labrador, Ellen made it clear to Diane that a sporting camp without homemade bread daily was unheard of so she rolled up her sleeves and went to work. And work she did. Day after day, in the heat of summer in a wash of perspiration, she rolled and kneaded the big dough pile and baked off loaves of bread and yeast rolls. The aroma of baking bread wafted out onto the Atikonak River, attracting sports to the cook shack for a mid-morning coffee and whiff of fresh bread.

Speaking of bread ladies, my second favorite cook, Ellen Libby, is hanging up her breadboard. Ellen and husband Matt, who have operated the well­ known Libby Camps at Millinocket Lake for many years, recently sold most of their business to their son and his wife, Matt and Jess. (The camps just celebrated 125 years of continuous family ownership, which is quite a feat in its own right).

Ellen is a talented, classic sporting camp cook. Over the years, along with her camp cooking chores, she has cranked out a monthly recipe column, “The Breadboard,” for the Northwoods Sporting Journal. In her column, as a rule, she always sprinkled her favorite recipes with an interesting little preamble about the life and times of a sporting camp cook and Mother Superior.

In her farewell column Ellen writes: “When I saw Jess’s flair for all things food, it made it easier to let go of the kitchen, which was my domain for years. My column name, ‘From the Breadboard,’ came from the fact that my favorite spot in the kitchen is at the breadboard, kneading dough and gazing out the window; praying, planning, scheming, dreaming. It’s the best therapy!”

All of us who love to eat, especially freshly baked bread, and read about life at a Maine sporting camp will miss our monthly visits with Ellen at “The Breadboard.”

Happy trails, bread lady!

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-­host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News- Talk Network (WVOM­FM 103.9, WQVM­FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e­mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com . He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.”

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