Longtime readers will remember Mildred Brown Schrumpf, the voice behind the Brownie’s Kitchen column that ran in the Bangor Daily News for just shy of 43 years. The final column appeared on April 4, 1994.
But to me, Brownie’s Kitchen and Schrumpf are a relatively new discovery. I’d heard tidbits about her in relation to Bangor Brownies (which is a topic for another time) and read bits about her in Sandy Oliver’s column, Taste Buds. But for all my interest in food writing and midcentury cookery, I wasn’t familiar with Schrumpf.
Earlier this year, after Sandy Oliver shared a recipe of hers, I did a quick internet search and discovered some interesting facts about Schrumpf. After getting a degree in home economics from the University of Maine, she went on to be a food demonstrator, food educator, cookbook author, TV cook and food columnist. She also judged cooking competitions — most notably at the Bangor State Fair and the National Pillsbury Bake-Off.
That got me to thinking: What was it about Schrumpf that really spoke to readers for more than four decades?
I headed off to the Bangor Public Library, where the second floor Reference Department had recently reopened. That’s where archives of the Bangor Daily News are kept. With the help of a librarian, I learned how to use the microfilm machine and was soon spinning through pages of the Bangor Daily News from more than a half century ago.
In her first column, Schrumpf shared a brief introduction to herself and several recipes — including one for French dressing. That piqued my interest, because I remember finding a recipe for the same in my grandmother’s cookbooks and papers. I read through a few more weeks of columns, but that French dressing remained on my mind.
Was it the same as my grandmother’s recipe?
When I got home, I dug through the cookbooks on my shelf and found the recipe tucked into a midcentury copy of “Betty Cooker Picture Cook Book.” Written in my grandmother’s handwriting, the simple recipe is different from Brownie’s — it has different seasonings. But I started to understand the allure of Schrumpf’s columns … she shared recipes that were easy, familiar and could be made easily in most kitchens.
That’s what I aim to do too.
And perhaps this recipe — my grandmother’s recipe for French dressing — will spark something in you. A memory, a hint of nostalgia, a smile.
If you aren’t familiar with this dressing, it’s a little peppery and complex — but not sweet. The sugar balances the other flavors in the recipe. Delicious on a tossed salad, this is an easy dressing for anytime.
I haven’t quite found the answer to my musing about Schrumpf yet though — the accessibility of her recipes is certainly part of it. But what was it about her?
I plan to read more of Brownie’s Kitchen, and learn more about Schrumpf and her role in promoting Maine home cooking. Sometime soon, I also hope to check out the “Brownie’s Kitchen,” exhibit at the Page Farm & Home Museum at the University of Maine, and perhaps her collection of cookbooks, papers, correspondence, notes and more at Fogler Library at UMaine as well.
Do you have a favorite recipe from Brownie’s Kitchen? A favorite story about Schrumpf or a column that she wrote? Share with me. I’d love to hear.
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- ¼ tsp pepper
- ¼ tsp paprika
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp vinegar
- In a small bowl, mix together the salt, sugar, pepper and paprika.
- Add the olive oil and vinegar. Whisk well, until well-combined.
- Enjoy immediately or chill until ready to use.