Letters from You and Perfect Roast Beef

Don’t get me wrong! I love holiday food and cooking for celebrations. It is fun to have rich, little yummy things around to slice and serve, nibble, slurp, and relish. But I am about cooked-out right now. A can of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich looks pretty good to me. I am at the absolute end of inspiration’s rope right now, and spent most of today vacuum cleaning and doing laundry to avoid thinking about food.

Still I have to provide something here and you might need a recipe for something, or better yet, how about a few good stories and ideas? Often, after a recipe appears here, I hear back from many of you offering up additional information, memories, and even more recipes. Here are a few from this past year’s collection.

Last winter I put a recipe in this column for Bean Swaggon. Judy Boothby in Bangor sent me a swaggon recipe from Brownie Schrumpf who used to write for the Bangor Daily News years ago. Then she tacked on a bit of non-swaggon advice that you’ll have to save for next summer: Judy wrote, “After trying trays with cake racks for drying herbs on an open counter or in the oven, I found that herbs dried best on a cookie sheet in the attic where it’s very hot on a summer day.” Now, when I do that, I have to make a note to remind myself to retrieve them in a timely fashion before they are hopelessly past prime, dusty and yellowed.

Doris Neal in Detroit, Maine, wrote about swaggon, too. She said, “I have been making it for over sixty years.” She sent a story her father used to tell: “A man worked away from home as a cook in a woods camp. They ate beans several times a week. One Saturday night he arrived home, kissed his wife, lifted the cover off the pot on the stove and said, ‘oho, Bean Swaggon, you beat me home.’ ”

Last summer I had a recipe for Caraway Cookies that prompted Ruth French in Dover Foxcroft to write. She said that back in the 1930s her mother used to make caraway cookies. “My sisters and I would go out and collect the caraway seeds that grew beside the road. The cookies were so delicious. Even now after all these years I will eat the blossoms from the caraway plants.” What a fun idea! You can use caraway blossoms as an edible flower in salad or even with fruit or sorbet.

The tomato stew recipe kicked up a batch of memories for Charlene L. Randall. She correctly identified it with its formal name as Tomato Bisque, and recalled her childhood eating with neighbors who had eight children, and whose mother made it with “lots of whole milk, no water, and plenty of canned tomatoes.” Charlene recalled that her father said he grew up on bean swaggon but that her mother never made it.

After I had Carrie Yardley’s ginger snaps recipe in the paper, Patricia Estabrook in Houlton wrote to say she has made gingersnaps for years and likes to use a bit of cloves in hers. “The cloves give them a real spicy bite!” she reported. Worth trying.

We had a milk toast recipe query in the paper, too, and I received bucket loads of mail about how to make it, then another bucket load afterwards as many of you wrote to say how much they enjoyed milk toast, past and present.

After the strawberry shortcake recipe in early July, Dot Meade in Southwest Harbor wrote to say that her family has an annual Fourth of July Strawberry Shortcake Pig-Out. She wrote, “We have a couple of the thinnest possible slices of ham and a modestly-sized green salad while the huge shortcake is baking.” That way she and her family, including nine grandchildren, arrive at shortcake time still a little hungry and ready to pig out.

I asked for a baked beans recipe, and there was a terrifyingly large response. I’ll screw up my courage sometime this winter to sort through all the letters and try to come up with a good working recipe for the experienced to ponder and the uninitiated to attempt.

Now finally here is a great practical piece of advice for cooking a roast of beef. We used this set of instructions on Christmas Day gratis dear friends and neighbors Bill Warren and his wife Jean Anderson who often celebrate the holiday with us. Jean heard this method years ago on a radio show called Yankee Kitchen. Just do as the instructions say, and your roast will be perfect every time. Of course, your roast beef season may be just past, but save these instructions someplace where you can find them.

Foolproof Roast Beet
Standing rib roast of beef, bone-in, any size
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Sprinkle the roast with flour, salt, and pepper to coat all surfaces. Place on a rack in a shallow roasting pan, fat side up. Put the meat in the oven for five minutes per pound.
For example: 2 ribs, 4 ½ to 5 pounds, for 25 to 30 minutes. 3 ribs, 8 to 9 pounds, for 40 to 45 minutes, 4 ribs, 11 to 12 pounds, for 55 to 60 minutes.
After the specified baking time, turn the oven off and leave the meat in the oven for 2 hours and 15 minutes. Do not open the oven door at any time until you are ready to serve. The meat will be medium rare and perfect every time.

Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.