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"Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food" Michael Pollan.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010


Spring is coming slowly to Maine this year. It was 19 degrees yesterday morning and the ground was frozen solid. There hasn't been much mud yet but the Rhubarb is starting to appear in the local produce section of my local Hannaford so spring must be somewhere around the corner!

Rhubarb was known by the Romans as a food eaten by the people who inhabited their northern borders-they labeled these people as "barbarians" and the name stuck. Like the Rutabaga, Rheum x hybridum or Russian Rhubarb, is an edible plant that was probably introduced to Scotland by the Vikings. The various varieties of rhubarb plant known today probably all originated along the Asian Steppes, and the Russian Rhubarb that is popular for making pies grew wild along the banks of the River Volga at the time when the Vikings were using it as a trade route. It is first written down as being brought to England from the Volga region in 1573. It was first planted in Italy in 1608 and then in other parts of Europe about 20 to 30 years later. By 1778, Europeans were using rhubarb as a filling for tarts and pies, its popularity rising as sugar prices had descended.

The Chinese species of Rhubarb were grown in botanical gardens in Europe all through the Renaissance. The expense of transportion across Asia caused Rhubarb to be highly expensive in medieval Europe, where at one time it cost more per pound than opium. The merchant explorer, Marco Polo, was therefore interested in, and noted it when he found, an inexpensive source of the plant during his trip to China. Up until the 17th century, Rhubarb was considered a medicinal plant that was prescribed for everything from hangnails to cholera. This reputation remains to this day due to its Vitamin C and Vitamin K content. An old Maine recipe from 1790, for example, calls for rhubarb powder for the treatment of piles!

In America, Rhubarb started out as a plant grown in the herb gardens of the immigrants called the Scotch Irish, and would only become somewhat of a commercial crop later. Sometime between 1790 and 1800, rhubarb spread to the rest of the country from Maine and it became a popular crop. By 1822, rhubarb was available in produce markets throughout New England.

A later development in Rhubarb cultivation, the process of forcing it by growing it in the dark or by pale candlelight, created a thriving industry in England during the late nineteenth century. In modern times, most of the rhubarb in England comes from the northern borderlands of England. An area called The Rhubarb Triangle, consisting of Wakefield, Leeds and Bradford, is located in the northern county of Yorkshire. A European Union program to register and protect cultural foods from around Europe has recently recognized Rhubarb as a unique regional food of Yorkshire.

Rhubarb Crisp is a tasty 19th century recipe that combines Rhubarb with another Scotch Irish staple-Oats- for a special springtime treat.


• 3 cups diced rhubarb stalks
• 1 cup white sugar
• 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

• 1 cup packed light brown sugar
• 1 cup rolled oats
• 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 sticks butter

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 9x13 inch baking dish.

2. In a large mixing bowl combine rhubarb, white sugar, and 3 tablespoons flour. Stir well and spread evenly into baking dish. Set aside.

3. In a large mixing bowl combine brown sugar, oats, and 1 1/2 cups flour. Stir well then cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle mixture over rhubarb layer.
4. Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Another Great Reason to Buy Locally: My MOOMilk Experience

I am a great supporter of the BUY LOCAL movement in the United States. I believe that it is the only way back to a sustainable food supply system like the one our ancestors created and that we have lost. It takes some searching and a clear decision making process but in the end when you buy food that is produced nearby you have fine food and your money stays in the local economy. Another reason to buy local is that it is easier to create a direct link between you and the farmers and I have found that they truly value you as a customer. I live in Maine and had started to buy Maine's Own Organic Milk [also known as MOOMilk.] Last week I had a hard time buying it because the cartons in my local store were leaky-it was a disappointing experience. Because I belong to several local food groups on Facebook, I sent MOOMilk a message about the problem. I was so pleased with their response to correct the problem-and also because my opinion was treated as valued. I will be a steady customer from now on and highly recommend MOOMilk.It tastes great. If you live in Maine-give it a try and support your local dairy farmers!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Portland Press Herald Article

March 3
300 years of mmmmm ...
The first Scotch-Irish settlers landed nearly three centuries ago, and, as author Mary Drymon notes in a new book, many of the recipes they brought ashore are still well-loved in American kitchens today.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

If you like sour cream, pancakes, clam chowder and that Yankee staple known as the New England boiled dinner, you can thank the Scotch-Irish settlers who sailed into Casco Bay nearly 300 years ago.Oats, bonny clabber and stump were the triumvirate of Scotch-Irish foods. Oats were used in quick cakes, breads, hot cereal, and as a thickener for soups and stews.

Mary Drymon’s new book, “Scotch-Irish Foodways in America,” includes many recipes that will be familiar and others . . . not so much.

So says Mary Drymon, a South Portland historian and museum educator who is trying to enlighten Mainers about the 2018 anniversary of the immigration through a new book, “Scotch-Irish Foodways in America: Recipes from History.”

The book includes lots of traditional Scotch-Irish recipes that Drymon has personally tested at least three times – on a wood stove, a modern stove and over an open hearth – to be sure they are both authentic and edible.

There are eats in the book that you are sure to recognize, and others that you surely won’t.

If you were living in the Maine wilderness in the 18th century, what would you rather have eaten: Mackerel marinated in cider vinegar, black tea and spices? How about herrings in oatmeal? Or maybe you’d subsist on stump, which is a hearty, thick puree of potatoes, rutabagas and carrots.

Not all of the recipes are so, um, rustic. There’s also Scotch-Irish versions of New England clam chowder and shepherd’s pie, and a bacon and squash soup that sounds like a delicious way to ward off a winter chill. Drymon includes recipes for rosehip and blackberry wines, and a rhubarb custard. The Scotch-Irish, it turns out, are the ones who brought rhubarb to America.

Drymon, who is working on her doctorate at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, got interested in Scotch-Irish cooking because of her own Scotch-Irish ancestry and her food history work at various museums. She finds it ironic that there were fewer than 300 Pilgrims who landed on American shores “and we know the whole Pilgrim story” but not much at all about the Scotch-Irish immigrants who started coming to New England in 1718.

“There were 200,000 of them that came over,” Drymon said. “It’s a huge group that emigrated by the American Revolution.”

Historical records are unclear about where the Scotch-Irish landed in Maine. Some sources say they came ashore in the Willard Beach area of South Portland, while others say the landing spot was “across from Clark’s Point,” Drymon said.

“They’re not exactly sure where they spent that first winter,” she said. “The Scotch-Irish were invited to New England by Cotton Mather, but when they got here what they wanted them to do was move up to Maine so that they could be a buffer between the native Americans and Massachusetts. They shipped them up to Casco Bay with basically nothing, and very little provisions.”

Documents from Richmond Island link the Scotch-Irish with one of their staple foods, bonny clabber, a cultured dairy food made from raw milk that is the ancestor of modern products such as cottage cheese, cream cheese and sour cream.

And Drymon found lots of history about Scotch-Irish immigrants sharing potatoes with their English neighbors, who didn’t understand at first that the edible part grows under ground.

The Scotch-Irish likely added the potatoes to clam chowder, Drymon said. Their oat cakes evolved into our pancakes, their Scotch pies into modern pot pies. They preferred boiling over baking, and so helped develop the traditional New England boiled dinner.

Drymon’s book is called “Scotch-Irish Foodways in America,” and so it also covers dishes still made by many southern grandmothers – sawmill gravy, cornbread stuffing, hush puppies, corn pone.

If these foods are Scotch-Irish as well, why aren’t we eating things like grits and red-eye gravy here in Maine?

It’s partly due to available ingredients; you use what the landscape provides. But it’s also because the Maine immigrants were more integrated with other settlers here in New England, Drymon said, while the Scotch-Irish who settled in the south tended to get marginalized, and so were able to hang on to more of their traditional foodways.

“The Scotch-Irish in the south got kind of filtered out to the back country, and they were more ethnically themselves, separate from the rest of us,” Drymon said. “In New England, their culture had to be sort of dampened down by the Puritans that they had to live with. It changed them. And then once they won the Civil War, there was a real disconnect between the northern and southern branches, I think.”

Drymon has started something she calls the “1718 Project” that she hopes will teach Mainers more about the history of their Scotch-Irish ancestors. She envisions museum programs and exhibits on the Scotch-Irish culture, including food, and is looking for people and organizations to contribute ideas and be partners in the effort.

One of Drymon’s own ideas came from statues she’s seen in northern Ireland and Highland Scotland dedicated to the Scotch-Irish. The statue in Ireland shows a family about to embark on their long journey to America.

Drymon would like to see the conclusion of their journey represented by a statue here.

“I think it would be nice to have that family arriving here in Maine,” she said.

Drymon swears by this old Scotch-Irish venison recipe, which she says is so good even her children will eat it. It’s ideal for Maine hunters who have venison in their freezers.


Serves 4

1 1/2 pound shoulder of venison, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 ounces all-purpose flour

Sea salt and pepper

1 ounce butter

2 medium onions, skinned and chopped

2 carrots, sliced

1 cup beef stock

1/2 cup rough hard cider (scrumpy) or local red wine

1 palmful of tied seasonal herbs, tied in a bundle

2 teaspoons vinegar

1. Toss the venison in the flour, sea salt and pepper, shaking off any excess. Reserve flour mixture. Melt the butter in a large frying pan and fry the meat for about 10 minutes until well browned on all sides. Using a slotted spoon, transfer into an ovenproof casserole that has a heatproof lid.

2. Fry the vegetables in the fat remaining in the frying pan until golden. Drain well and add to the meat in the casserole. Stir the rest of the flour mixture into the butter in the pan and cook gently, stirring, until brown. Remove the pan from the heat and gradually stir in the stock and cider or wine. Bring to a boil, stirring, until thickened.

3. Pour this sauce over the venison and season to taste, then add the herb bundle and the vinegar.

4. Cover the casserole and bake in oven at 325 degrees, or in a Dutch oven in the coals for about two hours, until the meat is fork tender. Remove herb bundle. Serve with mashed potatoes and braised red cabbage.


Makes 8

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 stick unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces

3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

2/3 cup buttermilk

Egg wash:

1 large egg

1 tablespoon milk

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Place the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder in a large mixing bowl and mix to combine. Add the butter, and using a pastry blender cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the rolled oats. Mix until combined. Stir in the buttermilk and mix just until the dough comes together.

3. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead the dough a few times, then pat the dough into a circle that is about 7 inches round and about 1 1/2 inches thick. Cut this circle into eight sections like a pie. Place the scones on a greased baking sheet. Mix egg and milk to make an egg wash and brush the tops of the scones with this mixture.

4. Bake for about 15 to 18 minutes, or until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

MARY DRYMON’S book, “Scotch Irish Foodways in America: Recipes from History,” is available through and
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

Friday, March 5, 2010


When I wrote my book, “Scotch-Irish Foodways in America,” I made a very conscious decision early on to use the term Scotch-Irish and not Scots-Irish.

The Scotch-Irish are the descendants of a mixed group of mainly Scottish and English Borderland tenant farmers who relocated to Ireland during the 17th century Plantation of Ulster period- where they met and mixed some more with hired Highland Scot mercenaries, Huguenots, and a even a few stray Irish natives. After a little over 100 years, they then moved on to America, where many of them interacted and intermarried with other ethnic groups-the German Protestant settlers in Pennsylvania and the English West Country fisherfolk in New England.

From around the early 19th century, the terms Scots or Scottish did become the preferred usage among educated Scottish people for themselves, Scotch being regarded as an “anglicized affectation.” In modern usage in Scotland, "Scotch" is not used for ethnic identity but as a descriptive term for something [eg. Scotch Whisky]; when applied to a person it has “patronizing and faintly offensive connotations ...". To be politically correct, Scotland, Scots, and Scottish culture should not be described as Scotch.

While many of us would love to be back in that starkly beautiful country [Northern
Ireland is beautiful too!]we are not. In America, the term Scotch-Irish has been used as a non-offensive ethnic descriptive for this mixed group for a very long time. While this Americanism doesn't abide by the rules of properness more recently established in Scotland, a land that we left hundreds of years ago, it has been in use here since the 1700s and is what we called ourselves. The term "Scots-Irish” seems to have appeared very recently. I can not find it in any historical records-although early on members of this group were often, and confusingly, called simply the Irish in early New England. The fact that they are confused with Papists is the subject of some early 18th century umbrage that got written down. The usage "Scots-Irish" may be regarded as a well-intended effort to accommodate modern Scottish preferences that is without historical precedent, an attempt to retrospectively apply 21st century feelings to the words of 18th century people.
As a historian, it was difficult for me to do so. Hence the use of Scotch-Irish.

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary,the term Scotch-Irish is recorded as being from 1744, while the term Scots-Irish is not recorded until 1972. There was historically an area of York County in Maine called Scotland, but it was settled earlier on by released Highland Scottish prisoners who had been sent to Maine after losing the Battle of Dunbar to Cromwell’s Army and not the Scotch Irish.

Scotch-Irish evidence:

 An affidavit of William Patent, dated March 15, 1689, in a case against a Mr. Matthew Scarbrough in Somerset County, Maryland, quotes Mr. Patent as saying he was told by Scarbrough that " was no more sin to kill me then to kill a dogg, or any Scotch Irish dogg..."

 A report in June 1695 by Sir Thomas Laurence, Secretary of Maryland, that "In the two counties of Dorchester and Somerset, where the Scotch-Irish are numerous, they clothe themselves by their linen and woolen manufactures."

 In September 1723, Rev. George Ross, Rector of Immanuel Church in New Castle, Delaware, wrote "They call themselves Scotch-Irish,...and the bitterest railers against the church that ever trod upon American ground."

 Another comment from 1723 that "...great numbers of Irish (who usually call themselves Scotch-Irish) have transplanted themselves and their families from the north of Ireland."

 During the 1740s, a Marylander was accused of having murdered the sheriff of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, after calling the sheriff and his assistants "damned Scotch-Irish sons of bitches."

Oxford English Dictionary citations are:
 From 1744 in the Collections of the Massachuseets Historical Society: 'The inhabitants [of Lancaster, Pa.] are chiefly High-Dutch, Scotch-Irish, some few English families, and unbelieving Israelites."

 From 1789: "[The Irish of Pennsylvania] have sometimes been called Scotch-Irish, to denote their double descent."

 In the 1876 BANCROFT History of the U.S.,page 333: "But its convenient proximity to the border counties of Pennsylvania and Virginia had been observed by Scotch-Irish Presbyterians and other bold and industrious men."

 The February, 1883 edition of Harper's Magazine: "The so-called Scotch-Irish are the descendants of the Englishmen and Lowland Scotch who began to move over to Ulster in 1611."

And yes, potatoes are mentioned in the historical records in association with the Scotch Irish in New England from the 1720’s onward. Bonny Clabber is noted even earlier, in the records from the Richmond Island fishing outpost in Maine, as is the use of oats, and getting sick of clams in the winter when there was little else to eat.

But no matter what name you call these people by, one thing stands out: they are truly a remarkable group of Americans! And they brought with them and made some great tasting food!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Portland Press Herald Article about "Scotch-Irish Foodways in America"