Maine Ingredients

Fisherman-turned-author Linda Greenlaw teams up with her mom to write a cookbook that celebrates the bounty of their New England home.

July 13, 2005|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ISLE AU HAUT, Maine - Take one tiny island. Add two short, scrappy women. Sprinkle liberally with a half-century of Down East recipes. Serve to hungry family and friends.

Recipes From a Very Small Island (Hyperion, 2005, $25.95) is the next best thing to watching the authors, Linda and Martha Greenlaw, prepare their favorite foods with a view of the Atlantic Ocean as the backdrop.

Linda Greenlaw is the fisherman-turned-writer of three semi-autobiographical books about her former profession, her island home and its inhabitants and her friends.

With her outgoing personality and outdoors good looks, she could have played herself in The Perfect Storm. But Hollywood decided to give the role of the hero's best friend to the lovely, but un-nautical, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.

Martha Greenlaw is Linda's mother, a Yankee original, the daughter of a dairy farmer and a passionate reader of everything, including cookbooks. It's hard to imagine anyone's playing her or her allowing it to happen.

As one would expect of a Maine cookbook, Recipes From a Very Small Island is chockablock with dishes made from seafood, blueberries, cranberries and other hearty ingredients. The recipes are surrounded by stories that let you know just how much the authors love the two most important parts of a meal: making it and eating it.

So it is with great zeal that the Greenlaws agree to do the former part so that a writer and photographer can do the latter, all in Linda's kitchen in front of her 1926 Glenwood stove and at amusement-park volume.

Linda Greenlaw meets the 7 a.m. mail boat from the mainland and drives the still-groggy visitors to her home in an unregistered, uninspected vehicle with most of the dashboard illuminated by an awe-inspiring number of warning lights. Not to worry, because island vehicles are not required to have any of those mainland formalities and road conditions slow forward progress to a jog.

The aroma of coffee fills her house and prepares the palate for what is to be the first recipe of the day: Foggy Morning Blueberry Muffins.

Martha Greenlaw, who lives just down the dirt road from her daughter, arrives with ingredients in canvas tote bags and an agenda in her head.

Her daughter may have been "one of the best sea captains, period, on the East Coast," according to Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, but Martha gives the orders - albeit with good humor - in her daughter's galley.

"This is not for amateurs," jokes Linda as she creams sugar and eggs in a bowl.

"That doesn't look smooth enough," Martha fusses, peering around her arm.

"I know, Mom. I'm talking," Linda replies, then picks up her conversation where she left off. "My mother and I cook totally differently. I love to cook, but I'm a recipe reader and follower. She does it by experience."

Martha reacts with a confident smile as she measures dry ingredients with a practiced hand, then eyeballs the batter to check its consistency.

Imagine her indignation when their publisher, Hyperion, insisted on having professional testers make each of the recipes.

"Indignation? That's putting it mildly," says Martha. "I told them, `I have a very large family. Everyone has had my recipes. I've never had a complaint.' "

She pauses and purses her lips before continuing. "It turns out it was a good idea."

The two testers helped the Greenlaws sort through 200 or so recipes that Martha started collecting in the 1950s, culling the pile to about 125.

"My mother was a terrific cook," says Martha. "I didn't learn to cook until I got married. I could make coffee and fry an egg and I got bored with that pretty fast. So I began to broaden my horizons. I can't say I was self-taught because I watched my mother."

The blueberry muffins emerge, plump and steaming from Linda's beautifully restored stove that she jokes she "built the house around."

There's more coffee to go with the muffins as the two women tackle a shrimp bisque and lemon tart.

"Do you have a zester?" asks Martha.

"I do. It may be yours," her daughter replies.

There's a lot of "what's mine is yours" in the land of Greenlaw.

When Linda retired from the backbreaking and dangerous work of deep-sea fishing and began her second career much closer to home as a lobsterman and author, "It wasn't a question of whether I'd be at dinner. I was part of the furniture," she says.

"We loved it," says Martha in a way that lets you know she means it. "She had been off fishing a long time."

Linda's younger sister, Biff, has a home nearby and her younger brother, Chuck, is building one between Linda's home and her parents. Older sister Rhonda lives not far away on the mainland. They celebrate the holidays together, always around a dinner table groaning under the weight of good food.

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