I fell in love with history in the summer before 7th grade, after reading two books very far apart on the spectrum – By the Banks of Plum Creek, by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Skye O’Malley by Bertrice Small [FYI if you have read anything by Bertrice Small, unlike LIW, you know it is decidedly not appropriate reading for an 11 year old]. One book introduced me to the period of migration and settlement of the American Midwest, while the other to 16th Century Renaissance Europe. Both ignited my imagination and curiosity. I spent the rest of the summer reading my grandparents 1972 World Book Encyclopedias, learning as much as I could about Queen Elizabeth I and her lover the Earl of Leicester, and prairie schooners and De Smet, South Dakota. Eventually this curiosity lead me to a BA in history and short lived stint as a high school social studies teacher, where I tried valiantly to teach students about the six wives of Henry VIII. Alas not, everyone shares my deep and abiding love for all things Tudor related.
If you want an informative and accurate measure of social progress and change, look at a restaurant menu or what’s being served in someone’s home kitchen. Along with fashion, art, and music, food reflects our culture and our values. It also represents our history in so many ways. Last year, I wrote a series of The History of Restaurants, for About.com, and the frequency and variety of restaurants match social progress and change in the United States and beyond. Fine dining (tablecloths, prix fixe menus, etc…) began after French Revolution, when chefs from aristocratic households found themselves unemployed. Women rising out of the home and into the workforce helped establish Fast Food (for better or worse) as a go-to meal option. The recession of 2008 helped cement Chipolte as the current new favorite menu trend – reflecting consumers growing demand for organic, healthy, and affordable menu options. Society changes and food adapts. That’s the way it has always been.
Maine is part of America and part of New England, but also unique in that geography has kept it largely isolated from the rest of the United States. There are certain foods that ubiquitous to Maine, like lobster, blueberries, and whoopee pies (despite what Pennsylvania may say). However, Maine Food History is also shaped by larger forces – immigration, technological advancements, wars. For me, Maine Food History is Italian sandwiches eaten at Popham Beach on a hot July day, whoopie pies bought from York’s Market and served up with a cold glass of milk after school, and the mystifying ambrosia salad (not actually a salad) that my grandmother served at every family function. That is my Maine Food History. It’s a little different for everyone. Over the next Year (August 1, 2015 – July 31, 2016) I intend to chronicle Maine’s Food History from the earliest people to the modern farm-to-table movement of today.
Is there something you’d like to know about Maine Food History? Let me know in the comments and I’ll see what I can dig up!