By Sandy Oliver
The Sewing Circle cooks. There is a whole lot of sewing, knitting, crocheting, needlework, and weaving going on, but can we ever cook!
The food and fiber connection is a strong one, reinforced by an island-wide lack of fast food options despite the small rotisserie chickens one can collect from one of the island stores on the way home from work or meetings, or even the Schwann’s truck offerings. Cook, go hungry or live off frozen prepared stuff. Plenty of us opt to cook.
Yummy stuff shows up at the weekly Tuesday meetings. Single older ladies with a hankering for cookies bake but don’t want to be left alone in their houses with a whole delicious batch. A plateful appears on the table at Circle next to the coffee pot, slowly eroded through the afternoon by passing members. One of our members, trialing recipes for her chocolate business, leaves out samples.
Monthly, one of our number bakes a cake to celebrate birthdays of all members born that month. We sing whether or not the birthday girls are present. A couple of us always make chocolate cake because we think it is the only Truly Good Cake but blueberry cakes, upside down cakes, other confections rich with butter and sugar, sliced up, adorned with a scoop of ice cream, regale those willing to eat.
Twice a year at least, we throw a luncheon party for ourselves. Valentine’s Day gives members a chance to bring spouses or special friends, and again in the fall for the Harvest Luncheon. The spread is awesome.
Usually a ham, or sometimes a big meatloaf, or chicken casserole, is accompanied by a generous array of vegetable side dishes including always-welcome classics like mac and cheese and scalloped potatoes to new-fangled combinations with quinoa and chard in them.
Lots of salads, tossed, broccoli, or fruit, always deviled eggs, and homemade bread, a new younger member makes a divine challah, leave barely enough room for the desserts which always feature pies in addition to cakes and cookies and cookie bars.
Serving ourselves a tiny bite of each dish so we can sample each offering, still we fill plates to overflowing. Trying to cut a sliver of pie slender enough to allow for a sample of two other deserts is a trick, but almost no one can content herself with only one taste.
This group is also equal to crustless sandwiches when called for. We customarily prepare the food for receptions following member funerals and memorial services if the families so wish.
Recently, in a matter of three days, Circle, with help from a handful of community neighbors, planned and put together a reception for upwards of a hundred people. In addition to the obligatory deviled eggs, there were ham and cheese sandwiches, salmon salad-filled pastry puffs, chicken salad sandwiches, tiny meatballs, so many really delectable savories, and hundreds of cookies and slices of sweet breads.
What an awesome spread.
The family was so relieved not to have to fix food and were able to spend time together, visiting, catching up, remembering.
Then there is the annual fair. In addition to moving all the handwork products and white elephants from our building to the school where we set up the fair, we women head home to make sandwiches for the luncheon sales, then bake and make for the baked goods table. We always make fudge, too, chocolate with and without nuts, peanut butter, and various species of blond fudge. Circle recently discovered that summer is an excellent time to sell pie; a recent fair had upwards of 20 pies made from all kind of summer fruit as well as custard and key lime fillings. Bread moves briskly, as do coffee cake, and bags of cookies.
As an annual treat, there is a luncheon a couple weeks after the fair when we sit down together somewhere in an eatery of some sort, feeling a tad self-congratulatory, to celebrate our accomplishment. The food? Always delicious and welcome—and cooked by someone else.
Sandy Oliver is a food historian who gardens, cooks, and writes on Islesboro.