It was the winter of 1983 when a new friend gifted me with a copy of “Cooking Down East” and I quickly became enamored with the no-nonsense cooking style of Marjorie Standish, considered to be a Maine icon.

Marjorie’s career as a high school home economics teacher and then a home service advisor for Central Maine Power segued into that of a food writer in 1948 when she began writing a column for The Maine Sunday Telegram called Cooking Down East.

Writing from her home in Gardiner, she became known throughout the state for her straight-talking advice and practical recipes. She continued writing the column for 20 years, then, finally, at the urging of her readers, gathered the recipes that she thought best represented Maine cooking and put them together in one collection by the same name.

Some of these were Marjorie’s own, while others had been passed down from family and friends. Many came to her via handwritten recipe cards and phone calls from her many fans.

I considered Marjorie to be a kindred soul, much like a favorite aunt, teaching me how to correctly prepare foods I wasn’t familiar with, including fiddleheads, those tiny Maine shrimp and what in the world was anadama bread? Also, I appreciated the simple yet delicious recipes I could make with common ingredients I already had on hand.

It’s safe to say I’ve made every one of the 350 recipes in “Cooking Down East” at least once (except for sardine salad). At this point, many of the recipes are so familiar to me that I put them together without opening my “Maine kitchen bible.” Besides the recipes I’ve included here today, other favorites are Marjorie’s pumpkin bread, whoopie pies (which she endearingly refers to as “whoopsie pies”), salt cod dinner and hot crab dip.

In an effort to simplify, I’ve taken the liberty of slightly editing some of Marjorie’s instructions. These recipes are from “Cooking Down East” by Marjorie Standish, published by The Maine Sunday Telegram, Guy Gannett Publishing. They are reprinted with permission.

Bean pot chicken breasts

You really can just throw chicken breasts into a pot with a stick of butter and an onion and get a tasty meal. This recipe is hands-down the best way I know of to put some serious comfort food on the table. The aromatic chicken comes out tender and delicately browned. The butter, onion and chicken juices simmer together to create a velvety sauce that can also be thickened for home-style gravy. Marjorie suggests baking rice in the oven in a separate covered dish for the last hour: Just use twice as much water as rice for a perfect vehicle for the sauce with no pot-stirring or boil-over.

Serves 4

4 large chicken breast halves (NOT boneless! Not skinless!)

Salt, pepper and poultry seasoning (to taste)

1/2 cup butter

1 onion, peeled

Place butter and whole onion in a large bean pot or heavy casserole dish with a lid. (I use a Dutch oven.) Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning. Put bone side up in pot. Bake at 300 degrees for 4 hours. (You can also use 275 degrees for 5 hours.)

Cream puffs

Over the years I’ve made this versatile recipe as tiny puffs, giant puffs and medium-sized puffs. These plain pastries are the perfect nests for Marjorie’s hot crab dip or her chicken and gravy (see above). They have served as cradles for various flavors of pudding and ice cream, and all manner of fruits and berries. I’ve nestled scrambled eggs and ham, lobster salad and lemon curd between the crispy tops and bottoms, dusted their domes with confectioner’s sugar, and slathered them with everything from hot fudge to hollandaise sauce.

For our photo shoot, grandson Jude was on hand to make the cream puffs, strictly by the book. (Well, the finish of homemade fudge sauce and whipped cream was HIS idea.) I only supervised, showing how easy these are to make. As Jude beat the eggs into the dough, he sang, “Everything starts with melting butter . . .” We ate them for breakfast, still in our PJs. I’m sure Marjorie would have approved.

Makes 12 medium-size puffs

1 cup boiling water

1/2 cup butter

1 cup flour

4 eggs

Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Melt butter in water. Add flour. Turn off heat. With a wooden spoon, stir until this mixture forms a ball. Stir in eggs one at a time, beating until mixture becomes stiff and thick and all traces of each egg disappears. The important thing is to make sure the mixture is very stiff after the addition of each egg.

Spoon mixture in rounds onto a greased cookie sheet. Put cream puffs in cold oven, turn temperature to 400 degrees and bake 50 minutes, until all bubbles of moisture have disappeared and puffs are brown and crisp.

Old-fashioned cream filling

2 cups milk

1/3 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

Scald milk in the top of a double boiler. Mix flour, sugar and salt in a separate bowl. Beat eggs slightly then combine with flour mixture. Stir in a small amount of scalded milk to the flour mixture, then add it all to the milk in the double boiler. Cook until the mixture thickens, stirring constantly. Cook 2-3 minutes more. Remove from heat. Cool and add vanilla. Chill. Whipped cream can also be folded into this mixture. Spoon into cream puffs. Serve with a ladle of fudge sauce and whipped cream.

Jude’s fudge sauce

1/2 cup butter

5 tablespoons cocoa powder

6 tablespoons milk

1 pound confectioner’s sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add cocoa and milk. Stir well. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Stir in sugar and vanilla. Beat until smooth and spoon over puffs immediately. This recipe makes enough for all the puffs and some highly enjoyable spoon-licking. Can be refrigerated for future use and reheated in the microwave.

For more on Marjorie Standish

Marjorie went on to publish “Keep Cooking — The Maine Way.” Another cookbook, “The Best of Marjorie Standish: Chowders, Soups, and Stews” is also available, all through Amazon. I have also seen these at local independent book stores. Here’s the link to obtain your own copy of “Cooking Down East”directly from the publisher: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780892723713/Cooking-Down-East or https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781608931927/Cooking-Down-East-Favorite-Maine-Recipes-2nd-Edition

Karen Schneider is the editor of Northern Journeys, a quarterly publication that supports the arts. She is also a book editor and a writer who has contributed to the Coastal Journal and the Lewiston Sun Journal for 20 years. She can be contacted at [email protected]

The author’s grandson Jude Lajoie fancies up his cream puff — made using Majorie Standish’s recipe — with the addition of hot fudge sauce and whipped cream. We think Marjorie would approve!

Marjorie Standish’s cream puffs can be made in any size. For smaller puffs, just use a shorter cooking time. Finished cream puffs can be used in a variety of ways. If making ahead or for leftovers, store them in a glass container with a lid or in a paper bag. Storing in plastic will make them soggy.

Marjorie Standish

Marjorie Standish’s book “Cooking Down East” stands next to some freshly baked pumpkin bread made using her recipe. 

Bean pot chicken breasts has to be one of the simplest, most satisfying meals you will ever make. Any casserole dish with a tight-fitting lid will work.

A package of chicken breasts, a stick of butter, an onion and some seasonings put in a covered pot and left to simmer in the oven produces comfort food at its finest.

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