Stirring up memories
On the Banks of the Piscataquis
March 1, 2006
It took stout-hearted brave folks to decide to leave their warm homes in New Hampshire and head into the wilds of Maine to the banks of the Piscataquis River In fact, in 1803 when Eli Towne and his wife (unfortunately we don't know her name) headed out with their 13 month old son, Maine wasn't even Maine. It was still a part of Massachusetts.
It was no easy trip. The Townes took a boat from Portsmouth to Bangor, and then set out on foot for their new home. Eli carried the baby. When they were within 15 miles of their destination, they acquired a horse. Mrs. Towne rode with the child in her arms.
In his later years, Eli recorded the journey. He recounts how upon their arrival the view was so different from the home they had left. "All was forest, except the opening." It is no surprise that he goes on, "Whilst gazing thus a few minutes, tears were seen starting from the eyes of my wife." It wasn't just the forest. He notes that while it was the middle of May, "the snow was falling fast, and some six or eight inches covered the ground."
Mrs. Towne blinked back those tears, and set out making a home in the wilderness. Soon they did have furniture hewned from the downed pine and cedar trees and a strong house.
And neighbors. For other families soon arrived. One day Mrs. John Dow was alone with her children when a bear came out of the woods and began an attack on the family hogs. Mrs. Dow rushed her children into the log house, but the only door was a quilt—not much protection against a bear! She took refuge behind the stone chimney. The fire kept the bear away. She spent the night stoking the fire until dawn drove the bear away. Stout-hearted and brave indeed.
Soon a community grew up on the south side of the river—Dover, Maine incorporated in 1821. Just across the Piscataquis on the north bank Foxcroft also incorporated. About 100 years later the two towns combined into one. Neither was willing to surrender its name so now the town of Dover-Foxcroft, Maine lies on both sides of the scenic river. It's a great place to grow up!
Ask Jan Earley Forrester. She'll tell you all about it. That was home to the six children of Margaret Andrews and Drummond Earley. Jan's the second child. She remembers a happy, yet busy childhood in that town that crosses a river.
"Maine is more than just a coastline!" Jan exclaims.
And she remembers that cold May weather is no Maine tall-tale. The kids loved to go swimming in nearby Sebec Lake. But not in May. "It was May before the ice was gone," Jan tells. You might swim on a dare, but the season didn't really begin until June—when school was out. When Labor Day rolled around and school started back up, swimming season ended. It was too chilly.
Jan remembers happy, simple days. No television, no dishwasher but lots of fun and chores. "We were too busy to miss television." In the long winter months there was skiing and sledding on a large hill. "We thought it was a big hill," Jan laughs. "But it must have been pretty flat. In the summer it was our ball field."
There was a swing in the apple tree and a grove for exploring and playing. No need to worry about snakes. There are no poisonous snakes in Maine!
Summer was also the time for winter preparations. Jan's dad kept two big gardens and her mom spent lots of time in the kitchen canning for the winter season. She didn't just do garden vegetables. Berries of all sorts—blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries. Jan went home to lunch every day wondering what sort of berry pie would be sliding out of the oven. These days when she goes to visit her sister Mina in the summers they always make wild strawberry jam. Jan's in trouble with her four children and seven grandchildren if she comes home without it!
After this idyllic childhood Jan went off to school at nearby Colby College. During spring vacation of her sophomore year she met a nice young fellow from the nearby Air Force radar base. He'd served in Montana and overseas before being sent to Maine. "For me!" Jan says.
Bob Forrester was a Bainbridge boy. When he left the Air Force he returned home, but he left his heart in Maine. Shortly after Jan graduated from Colby, they married and came to Bainbridge. That was 1957 and Jan is still here. (Bob died several years ago.)
I asked if moving from Maine to Georgia was a big adjustment. She told me that at first she felt misplaced, but all of Bob's friends were so great to embrace her into their friendships, that she soon felt right at home.
Jan began to teach at Bainbridge High just as soon as school started the year she arrived. She taught there for thirty years—right through raising those four children (with five years off while they were small). After she retired from the high school, she didn't quit teaching. She was at Thomas Technical College for about seven years, and she still substitute teaches in the Bainbridge Schools.
She hasn't forgotten Maine. She visits and she treasures the local history books she has by Dover-Foxcroft author Louis E. Stephens. They are where I learned about those Maine settlers.
And she still cooks good family recipes. Here are three. One from her grandmother, one from her mother and one from sister Mina.
Mina's Pepper Relish
Grind together 12 green peppers, 12 red peppers and 12 medium onions. Cover with water and boil 15 minutes.
Drain and add 1 quart of vinegar, 2 cups of sugar, 3 tablespoons salt and 1 tablespoon mustard seeds. Bring to a boil again and fill hot jars.
Jan says Mina always adds extra details to her recipe on this card, Mina made the following note: "I usually use 18 green and 6 red peppers—or enough for color. This recipe comes out well regardless of the size of vegetables, just might be thicker or thinner."
Grammie Earley's Lemon Pie
4 egg yolks (save whites for meringue)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
juice of 2 lemons
Beat the yolks and add the flour and sugar. Then add the lemon juice and a lump of butter the size of a walnut. Pour 1/2 cup boiling water into the mixture. Cook in a double boiler until "thick." Pour into a baked pie shell.
For the meringue, beat the 4 egg whites adding 1/2 cup of sugar after peaks begin to form.
Brown in a 350 degree oven.
Margaret's Baked Ham Slice
1 slice ham, 1 1/2 inches thick
1 tablespoon dried mustard
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup pineapple juice
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 tablespoons water
extra brown sugar
Place the ham in a baking dish. Combine the mustard, flour, sugar, pineapple juice, vinegar and water. Pour this mixture over the ham and bake in a moderate (350 degrees) oven for one hour basting the meat frequently with the juice in the pan. 20 minutes before the baking time is up, place slices of pineapple over the meat. Sprinkle with the pan juices until brown and the ham is cooked.
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network