Comfort breakfast, Maine-style
“When the days get longer, the cold gets stronger”: the oxymoron of winter in Maine, starting with the winter solstice on the 21st of December and ending with the spring equinox on the 20th of March. The sun shines bright through our windows these February days, belying the deep cold outside, although there’s no denying the sound of that chill wind that, insult to injury, blows strong through the summer wind chimes. February was called the “hunger moon” by the Indians, which is self-explanatory. (The Indians measured their months by moon phases, which makes sense, as it’s the moon phases that correspond more closely with weather patterns.)
We’re smack-dab in the middle between the winter and spring solstices which, I hope, means that we’ll soon see the days getting a bit warmer – that time of year when we’ve pretty much had enough of winter and the sun actually feels warm through the windshield, reminding us that spring will come, as it always does – although it never comes too soon.
As I was making my pancake breakfast this morning I remembered the breakfasts up on Tucker Ridge those many decades ago. Although I now use gluten-free flours, the rest is the same: organic eggs (although in those farm days, all eggs were "organic" and most, like ours, came from our own hens, the milk and butter, (organic), from our own cows, the maple syrup from our own trees, the canned blueberries from local fields. I still use organic eggs and butter and Maine maple syrup and blueberries, but they aren’t grown or raised by me.
Grammie Tucker, of course, cooked breakfast on the Clarion wood stove – having gotten up and started the fire at 5 o’clock while Grampa Roy went to milk the cows. How often I long for that old cook stove – well, at least in winter.
When I was a kid, cold cereal wasn’t considered breakfast food. Indeed, there were few choices of boxed cereal: Wheaties – “the breakfast of champions” – corn flakes, Cheerios and shredded wheat – my favorite. But Grammie only allowed us to have cold cereal if we ate our “breakfast” first. Her strategy worked. Cold cereal wasn’t forbidden. We just were seldom still hungry enough to eat it.
We’d often have pancakes -- although we called them “flap jacks” -- but more often we’d have Grammie’s home-baked beans with hot, butter-slathered buttermilk biscuits which we’d dip in molasses. Along with this, there’d be a side of meat. Pork chops were my favorite – and the bone to chew was the best part of that. (Today, it’s getting increasingly harder to find pork chops with the bone in.) Grammie also made her own sausages from the pig Grampa raised each year. And there were always home fries, from the extra potato or two cooked with last night’s supper.
Added to the flavor of our breakfasts were the homemade lard and/or bacon drippings they were cooked in. “Organic lard,” of course, rendered from our pig’s fatback. Lard was also sold in the stores in metal pails with lids, usually holding four pounds. Grammie had shiny silver pails that she stored her lard in. These pails, the plain silver ones or the store-bought ones with painted labels, often ended up as school lunch pails.
I still use lard, although I don’t raise pigs, and render my own from organic fat back, which is getting increasingly hard to find.
For a time, I didn’t eat or cook much that involved lard or bacon, what with all the claims of animal fats being so bad for us that we’d all drop over long before our time from blocked arteries, heart attacks and all. Turns out, it seems, that these fats are actually very healthy. But never take my word on such things. I just write about what works for me. However, the research is all at the end of our fingers, on the Internet.
With all the new studies out now that give animal fats, like lard and bacon – and my favorite, pork chops – actually being healthy, if organic, I’m in breakfast heaven. I’m enjoying my comfort breakfasts, Maine-style.
Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, is a Maine native and graduate of Belfast, now lives in Morrill. Her column appears in this paper every other week.