Lewiston-Auburn is a fascinating mixture of cultures that have shaped the two cities.

About 22 years ago, a one-time, magazine-size publication called “Cultural Mosaic” was printed through a collaboration of organizations that included Horizons 55, L/A Arts, the Maine Humanities Council and the Maine Arts Commission. Based on interviews, focus groups and oral histories, the publication gathered dozens of family stories that were seasoned with favorite recipes.

It contains sections about the English/Scottish population, the French, Germans, Greeks, Irish, Italians, Jews, Lithuanians, Poles and Slovaks. L-A’s latest Somali Bantu immigrants have arrived in just the past 15 years, so another chapter may eventually be added with that large population’s rich cultural contributions to the Twin Cities.

“Cultural Mosaic” begins each section with a brief historical sketch of the several ethnic groups. In no particular order, here’s a sampling of those local stories and the traditions practiced in many local homes.

It was between 1900 and 1920 when significant numbers of Italians arrived here. The family names included Palange, Restori, Bruno, Maselli, Capano, Magno, De Angelis, Spugnardi, Seckino and Vangeli.

“Mr. Spugnardi was a popular scissors grinder,” the publication said. “The Palange family owned a restaurant at the corner of Cedar and Lisbon streets. Other Italians worked at the Libbey-Dingley dams and in the mills.”

There was a good deal of interaction among L-A’s varied nationalities. A curious Franco-American physician asked his Italian friends about a food “that looked like a butterfly.” It was squid, he learned. He acquired a taste for it in a sauce, and would send to Boston for a crate of squid, which the Maselli family would prepare and preserve in quart jars for the doctor.

There’s a story about the Palange family and their visits to Penley’s slaughterhouse in Auburn, where they could get pigs’ feet and hearts, normally thrown away. They sometimes fished in the canal for eels and yellow perch, which they sold to Cloutier’s Market, and they gathered mushrooms that grew near the elms and maples along the canal.

Eventually, the family opened a Lisbon Street fruit store, and they built the block next to it that bore the inscription, “Palange, 1905.”

Activity of L-A’s Jewish community gets a lot of space in the book. Jewish customs are explained, and “Cultural Mosaic” has many prized recipes. Elaine Cohen’s “Quick Chopped Herring” is featured, as well as Esther Shapiro’s tzimmes, matzo ball dumplings and mandelbrot. Maizie Schwartz contributed her recipe for noodle pudding.

Greeks seem to have begun arriving here around 1900. Historical documents name George Frangedakis as the first Greek to settle in the area.

The Greeks maintain a strong ethnic identity in the Twin Cities. By 1914, there were 500 Greeks in the area.

The section of Greek recipes has Tonie Ramsey’s cucumber yogurt salad, Anna Liarakos LaRocca’s shrimp baked with feta cheese, Bessie Hildreth’s spanakorizo (spinach and rice), and Cecile D’Amour’s Greek sugar cookies.

From 1860 to 1880, Germans were coming to these communities. Their homes were scattered around the cities, with some “patches” of German families in the Bartlett, Pierce and Horton street areas on West Bates Street, the book’s authors said.

Lithuanians first came to L-A before 1885, and by 1905, they numbered 300. That increased to 900 by 1914. Some established small businesses such as the Drigotas and Chuzas shoe shops. Others, such as the Stukas, Stelmak and Cheresky families returned to farming.

Polish families were noted in Lewiston-Auburn in the 1890s.

Slovaks came here along with the great waves of Eastern and Southern European immigration in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

Mike Bonihicky recalled in the pages of “Cutural Mosaic, “My father said that when he came here, he ate more meat in a week than in a whole year in Slovakia.”

Bonihicky said that some Slovaks came to Worumbo Mills and Pejepscot Paper “to escape the coal mines of Pennsylvania.”

“Cultural Mosaic” is a wonderful collection of local history and mouth-watering recipes. No doubt, there are many copies of the publication carefully kept in homes of these diverse and valued families of L-A.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]


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