LEWISTON – Louise Landry Mease believes that cooking isn’t always something that is learned, but instead passed on from one generation to the next.

“My grandmother had 14 children. There was always fresh bread and delicious pastry at every meal; 10 of her children love cooking. My mom was a wonderful cook; she made leftovers taste special. They were not teachers: Their kitchens were a refuge – and I must say I share their feelings. My daughter is also gifted in the kitchen. So, for me, it is a genetic kind of thing.”

Mease’s love is shared with her family through her cooking. This is especially true of her passion for rhubarb and pastries.

“There is nothing like seasonal fruits. I love pie baking and baking with yeast.” One of their favorites is rhubarb cake, included here in the recipes. It’s so good, she says, that family members have been converted to being rhubarb lovers after eating it. “My New Jersey-born son-in-law, who never had it before moving to Maine, shows up with fresh, cleaned, cut-up rhubarb so I can whip this recipe up. It is his favorite.”

Mease also enjoys the convenience of using a slow cooker. “Crockpots are great on weeknights; to come home to something cooking in the kitchen is very welcoming.” When she’s seeking new recipes, Mease loves looking through her collection of more than 200 cookbooks. She also “enjoys scouting for them from magazines and newspapers. Sharing recipes with friends has guided me to some of my best kindred-spirit friends, and good recipes going back more than 20 years.”

Mease and her husband, Greg, live in Lewiston. She has a daughter, Katie, a son-in-law, Bryan, and a calico cat named Pua. She works for the Lewiston School Department as a school nurse, a job she loves. In addition, she enjoys quilting, scrap-booking and making watercolors, but her list of hobbies goes “on and on. Sometimes it can be more than I can handle.”



Fresh rhubarb cheesecake



Crust ingredients:

1/3 cup soft butter

½ cup chopped walnuts

1¼ cups flour

½ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla



Filling ingredients:

19 ounces cream cheese, softened

3 eggs

¾ cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla



Rhubarb topping ingredients:

3 cups finely chopped rhubarb

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¾ cup sugar

2/3 cup fresh strawberries

¼ cup water

1 tablespoon cornstarch, dissolved in water

Optional: red food color to taste



Method:

Crust: Combine all ingredients in bowl. Press mixture into bottom of buttered 9-by-13-inch pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.

Filling: Beat in mixing bowl till smooth. Pour over partly cooked crust. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

Rhubarb topping: Combine all topping ingredients except the strawberries in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat. Add strawberries when rhubarb is almost tender so strawberries don’t get mushy. Cook till rhubarb is tender. Cool to room temperature. Serve on the side with the cheesecake. Chill. Serves 12.



Louise’s notes: This is my most requested recipe from family and friends. I cut it out of Yankee magazine over 20 years ago. I add a few drops of the food coloring to please the eye. I usually make double the topping recipe. We love it on shortcake, ice cream, waffles, etc. It keeps well in a glass jar, refrigerated for two weeks. You also can use frozen rhubarb for the sauce.



Rhubarb cake



Batter ingredients:

1½ cups sugar

½ cup shortening

1 beaten egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sour milk

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups diced rhubarb

2 cups flour

Pinch of salt



Topping ingredients:

¾ cup chopped rhubarb

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon



Method:

Batter: Cream sugar and shortening. Add egg and vanilla. Mix baking soda with milk; add to sugar and shortening. Mix well. Add flour, salt and rhubarb. Pour into 9-by-13-inch pan that has been greased and floured.

Topping: Mix the topping ingredients. Sprinkle on batter in pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes.



Louise’s note: This cake recipe is from the Lewiston Sun Journal, 30 years ago when I was a young bride. Delicious with Cool Whip or vanilla ice cream. You can also use the topping from the rhubarb cheesecake recipe on this cake.



The easiest whole wheat bread you’ll ever make

(sponge method)



Ingredients:

2 cups water

½ cup dry milk (optional)

½ cup brown sugar, honey or molasses (or less, if desired)

1 tablespoon salt (less, if desired)

1 tablespoon or packet of active dry yeast

¼ cup vegetable oil, butter, or combination of both

3 cups King Arthur stone-ground whole wheat flour

3 to 4 cups King Arthur unbleached white flour



Method:

To 2 cups of hot water, add and let dissolve in three successive stages: 1 tablespoon of your sweetener, then the yeast and then the salt. When all three are dissolved, add the balance of the sweetener, the oil or softened butter, and the three cups of King Arthur stone-ground whole wheat flour. Mix this together thoroughly with a large spoon and let it set covered with plastic wrap and a dish towel over the wrap at room temperature, for at least 2 hours or all day if that’s more convenient.

Louise lets it sit overnight. This sponge will bubble away, softening the bran, and developing flavor while you go about with something else.

About 1½ to 2 hours before you want to serve your bread, add the remainder of your flour, 3 cups if you have used brown sugar or 3½ cups if you have used honey or molasses. Sprinkle the remainder on your kneading board. You will have to use a little elbow grease to incorporate the flour into the sponge, but get it in as thoroughly as you can before you turn it out onto the floured board. Knead the dough until it is springy and no longer sticky, adding enough flour only to keep it from sticking to you or the board, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Cut the dough in half and form 2 loaves. Place in greased bread pans and let rise until almost doubled, about 1 hour. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 35 minutes or until nicely browned. The best test to see if it’s done is to tap on the bottom of each loaf; if you hear a hollow sound, it’s ready, otherwise cook a little longer. Remove bread from pans and cool completely on a wire rack. Makes 2 loaves.



Louise’s variations: Try adding 2 tablespoons of cinnamon and 1 cup of raisins to your initial sponge. Or, after you’ve added and kneaded in the balance of your flour, roll half your dough (enough for one loaf) into an 8-by-14-inch rectangle. Spread with a thin layer of honey or brown sugar, leaving an inch around the outside edge. Sprinkle heavily with cinnamon and raisins. Roll up the short edge; pinch the seam and ends together thoroughly (don’t worry about how it looks) and place seal side down in your greased pan. Let rise and bake according to the directions for the regular loaves.


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