On Paratext, Cookbooks, and No Useless Mouth

By Rachel Herrmann

Before I entered the final stages of revising my first book, No Useless Mouth: Waging War and Fighting Hunger in the American Revolution, I had tried for reasons of sanity to compartmentalize the fun food stuff from the work food stuff. And then I came up against my final, self-imposed deadline and decided to blur the line between them. In this post, I want to explain why. During the editing process, I began to think about paratext. Although I don’t discuss the term “paratext” in my book, I think about it a lot when reading cookbooks and food writing. Paratext refers to the pieces of a book that are not part of its main body and can include epigraphs, chapter titles, and prefaces, as well as covers and blurbs. It can also refer to the index, even though Gerard Genette, who I cite here, did not include this in his definition of paratext; I would, especially now during a time when many of us compile our own to save money. This focus on paratext was not just about my manuscript, and linked to when I first started working on food and thinking about how eighteenth- and nineteenth-century cookbook authors told readers how to feel about food from the moment they encountered a cookbook’s cover. I read cookbook prefaces to learn about intended audiences and errors in previous editions, and thought about the intentionality of an author’s recipe titles. I wanted a way to use paratext to do something similar for readers of No Useless Mouth.

Fig. 1. Rachel Herrmann, No Useless Mouth, courtesy of Cornell University Press
Fig. 1. Rachel Herrmann, No Useless Mouth, courtesy of Cornell University Press

A good cookbook teaches you a technique, uses it to make something delicious that works on the first attempt, and then uses that technique recipe as a base ingredient for other recipes in the book. A cookbook with excellent paratext tells you how to read the author’s recipes. Its preface tells the reader where to find specialty ingredients, instructs her to read the recipe once through before beginning to prep and cook, and explains how the author has indicated components that can be made ahead of time. For example, my most recent revelation is Andrea Nguyen’s caramel sauce in Vietnamese Food Any Day. This sauce becomes an ingredient that gets added by the teaspoon to subsequent recipes, like her (delicious) Coconut-Kissed Chicken and Chile. Let me just say: the caramel sauce recipe is a scary recipe on the first read. You’re instructed to cook caramel until it’s almost burned. As any amateur pastry or baking enthusiast will tell you, burnt caramel is nearly never the explicit goal of a recipe. But Nguyen makes you feel confident by showing you pictures of the beginning, middle, and end stages of the process. She also includes a genius hack to slow down the cooking process faster than I’ve ever been able to do: she has you fill your sink with an inch or two of ice water. And then when you start to panic that the caramel really is going to burn, you gently plonk the bottom of your saucepan in the sink! GENIUS! Nguyen writes recipes this way because she wants to teach you as you cook.

I wanted No Useless Mouth’s paratext to do similar work: to show readers how I undertook my research, to explain how they could replicate it, to provide signposts about navigating my ideas, and to suggest how some of the ideas I developed in the book could be used for other work on food history. I used the acknowledgements section of the book to tell readers a little bit about me as a cook and an eater. Sometimes when I meet people, they express reservations about going out to eat with me because they worry that I will dislike the food where we have gone. In my acknowledgments, I tried to make clear that although the food I eat with people at conferences and during non-work get-togethers matters to me, the company often matters more. I recall how conversations shaped my ideas and how the meal made me feel about them more than I remember the taste of what we ate.

Later in the process, when I was finishing the last round of edits on No Useless Mouth, my editor, Michael McGandy, asked me to write a bibliographic note—I suspect because I’d wanted a full bibliography and he wanted to keep the cost low by saving pages. I used the note to tell readers where I had traveled to do research, what travel current researchers could avoid, given the outpouring of digital databases with relevant primary source material, and what researchers should eat near the archives I visited if I thought travelling to them remained imperative. I suppose that the implicit argument in this part of my paratext is that research can be isolating, lonely, and all-consuming, but that using food to break up the monotony keeps it from being so.

The last piece of paratext I worked on was my index. This was the second index I’d compiled, and I took the advice of Sara Georgini, who has had lots of experience working on indexes for the Adams Papers: she described an index as an “on ramp to readers.” A good index allows you to enter a book slowly, get a sense of the subjects that inform and surround it, choose where you want to visit inside of it and then decide where to go next. The number of subheadings for a subject might suggest that these moments in the book are moments to get “stuck in.”[1] “See” informs readers that there’s a different term they should be using to search the index, and reveals the author’s opinions on navigating the subject. Cross-references (“See also”) provide another way to slow down and explore the backroads. This approach extends to cookbooks; Andrea Nguyen’s index is a great example of paratext that is informed by her overarching goal to teach. She seems to know intuitively that readers may remember a key ingredient in one of her recipes, but not necessarily the name of the recipe itself. Thus her Coconut-Kissed Chicken and Chile is indexed under “Chicken,” “Chile,” and “Coconut Water.”

More than anything, I wanted my index to teach readers that food and hunger are giant categories that require specificity. My food-related terms consequently include words like “animals” (which include edible animals like cattle and fish, but also crop-destroying animals like the Hessian fly). My entry for “food” includes verbs and nouns like butchering, gifts, marketing, markets, meals, preservation, rationing, spoilage, storage, and transportation, but readers will find “food diplomacy,” “food laws,” “food riots,” “food sovereignty,” and “foodstuffs” indexed, too. Among the foodstuffs you can read about you’ll find bacon (of course!), boiled bones, buttermilk, corn, mussels, purslane, spikenard root (said to prevent huger), and wild rice. My hunger-related terms include “appetite,” “eating,” “environmental problems” (including drought and crop failure), and “famine,” among others.

I have come to think of my paratext as adding an additional double layer of rigor and fun to the book. If you want to know how I became interested in food history, you can read my acknowledgments. If you’re wondering where I think there’s room for the field to grow, I’ve written about this in my conclusion. If you’re a student who wants to write an essay about food but is struggling to break “food” into more manageable themes, my index will help you to do so. If you’re a food studies scholar who, like me, is trying to pin down the distinction and overlap between food studies and food history, well, I can’t promise that my paratext will provide a single answer to this question, but I hope it will help to continue that conversation.

 

No Useless Mouth is available from Cornell University Press in November, 2019.

[1] I mean this phrase to include here both the British and the American possibilities. To get “stuck in” to something in Britain is to slow down, savor, and spend time.” To get “stuck in traffic” in American English is a less pleasant experience, but nevertheless encapsulates the possibility that readers will need to work slowly to wrap their heads around this subject.

Lobster Newburg: Margaret Chase Smith’s Promotion of a Maine Ingredient

Nicole Ritchey

The Margaret Chase Smith Recipes Research Collaborative is an interdisciplinary group of faculty, students, and staff at the University of Maine. Members represent a wide range of disciplines including history, sociology, folklore, anthropology, public policy, food science, and business. Senator Smith was a trailblazer, passionate about bringing people together through civil discourse, often over a home-cooked meal. She was a proud homemaker throughout her thirty-three years in office, and she maintained an extensive recipe collection, using recipes from her collection to entertain fellow policymakers in Washington and at home in Maine. The collaborative formed to support students and faculty interested in issues of food, recipes, politics, history, and their intersections.

This post is part of a series of student research projects exploring a recipe from Smith’s collection from an Honors tutorial taught by Dr. Rachel Snell in Spring 2019. Combined the students’ insights provide a new window into Sen. Smith’s private and public persona as well as the cultural, social, and scientific context of her lifetime. 

Maine Lobster postcard c. 1920. Courtesy of the Jesup Memorial Library.

Lobster history is not new news to most Mainers or many New Englanders. Most people know about its “cockroach of the sea” to riches story. Once known as poor man’s food, this crustacean has risen from cockroach of the sea to a hot commodity. A lot of this “take off” is centered in Maine and occurred during Margaret Chase Smith’s lifetime, consequently influencing her recipe collection.

Lobsters were once so abundant along the coastline of northern New England that eating lobster was a sign of poverty. In the 1600s, it is rumored that lobsters washed up in two-foot piles after storms (History 2018). Native Americans used lobster to bait their hooks because of their availability (Willett 2013). Collected from the shoreline or speared in shallow water, lobster was eaten dead at this time. By the 1820s, Smackmen collected live lobsters using special wells in their boats that circulated sea water. Burnham & Morrill founded the first lobster cannery in 1836, the cans sold for one-fifth of the price of their Boston Baked Beans (DeBenedictis 2015). The growth of the railroad helped lobster find an audience outside of coastal areas (Willet 2013). By the 1850s canned lobster was being served as a side in salad bars. Around the same time, fishers switched to using lobster traps because lobster was becoming less plentiful in shallow waters.

Lobsterman with his (giant) catch. Swan’s Island c. 1930. Courtesy of the Swan Island Educational Society.

People would travel to the coast to enjoy fresh lobster, baffling many native New Englanders. For the coastal state residents, lobster still epitomized cheap, lower class food. Chefs discovered in 1876 that cooking live lobster “unlocked” many flavors. Live cooking became an instant hit and almost immediately led the creation of the first Lobster Pound in Vinalhaven, Maine. This was a place for local fishers to drop off their lobsters which would all be shipped live together in large batches. This centralized shipping and increased time fishers could be out. 

According to rumors, Lobster Newburg was invented in 1876. The popular theory begins in Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City. Ben Wenberg created the idea for and gave his name to the dish. Allegedly, an argument with the restaurant owner led to changing the dish’s name to Newburg (What’s Cooking 2017). The sauce used in Lobster Newburg is Terrapin sauce, used frequently in recipes before 1876 (Whitaker 2010). The first published recipe for Lobster Newburg is in Miss Parloa’s Kitchen Companion, by the principal of the School of Cookery in New York, copyrighted in 1887. This recipe calls for a four-pound lobster and two types of alcohol (Parola 1887).

This image shows two Mainers, Sen. Smith and Sen. Ralph Owen Brewster, enjoying lobster at the Maine State Society’s annual Lobster Dinner on February 22, 1946 held in the U.S. Interior Department’s cafeteria. Courtesy of Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library. 

Margaret Chase Smith was born in Skowhegan, Maine (about seventy-five miles from the coast) in 1897, just a decade after the publication of Miss Parola’s recipe. Maine has a two-sided history with lobster. George H. Lewis shows the role of class in the acceptance of lobster with the differences between “summer people” and permeant residents in Maine. In his article, “The Maine Lobster as Regional Icon: Competing Images Over Time and Social Class,” Lewis argues the symbolism of lobster largely depends on socioeconomic factors. The summer people are often upper-class visitors who cultivated the idea that Maine lobster was an icon of the state. They helped drive up demand and prices and brought about a tourism boom. Year-round residents in some parts of the state often have a very negative view of lobster still. Lobster was trash food in the beginning for them, and now that prices have risen, they can barely afford what used to be the cheapest protein (Lewis 1989). 

Sen. Smith hosted President Dwight Eisenhower for a traditional lobster bake on the lawn of her home in Skowhegan in 1955. Courtesy of Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library.

It is unlikely Smith grew up eating lobster due to Skowhegan’s distance from the coast. However, there are several recipes for lobster (as well as other seafood) in her collection, including a recipe for Lobster Newburg on her Senate stationery that she kept to respond to recipe requests. Smith regularly received requests specifically for lobster recipes, likely because of the association between Maine and lobster. In 1968, the editor of the forthcoming Republican Cookbookcontacted Smith requesting her “favorite way of doing lobster.” Smith responded with her recipes for Lobster Rarebit and Lobster Casserole which the editor responded were precisely the “regional specialties” they desired to feature (Margaret Chase Smith Library). 

Recipe for Lobster Newberg [sic] from Smith’s recipe collection. Courtesy of the Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library.
Recipe for a quick lobster newburg from Smith’s collection. This recipe utilitizes canned lobster. Courtesy of the Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library.

Smith frequently promoted Maine lobster. In addition to her recipes, she showcased the crustacean at social events. In 1946, she attended the Maine State Society’s annual Lobster Dinner, a continuing tradition since 1945. In 1955, during a vacation in the state, Smith hosted President Eisenhower for a steak and lobster bake at her Skowhegan home. It is likely Smith served lobster to guests in Washington, D.C., possibly because her visitors would have the connotation of lobster meaning Maine. Recipes in her collection using both canned and fresh lobster would allow her to select a recipe based on her location or her schedule – one recipe for lobster newburg using canned lobster was annotated by Smith “quick.” As a busy senator, she likely valued these recipes that were timesavers and accessible. While it’s unlikely Smith grew up eating lobster, she embraced the ingredient as increasingly emblematic of the nation’s perception of Maine food and promoted lobster consumption to help the industry grow. 

Nicole Ritchey is a fourth-year Marine Science major with a minor in computer science and member of the Honors College at the University of Maine. 


DeBenedictis, E. (2015). Lobster’s Delicious History is completely Insane. Munchies, Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/xy7vzw/lobsters-delicious-history-is-completely-insane

(2018). A Taste of Lobster History. History,Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/a-taste-of-lobster-history

Lewis, G. H. (1989). The Maine Lobster as Regional Icon: Competing Images Over Time and Social Class. Food & Foodways, 3(4) 303-316.

Parola, M. (1887). Lobster Newburg. Miss Parola’s Kitchen Companion, Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=X34EAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA225&dq=lobster+newburg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=hwTpT7SqEqzs2AXOkJz5DQ&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=lobster%20newburg&f=false

Smith, Margaret Chase. (1940-1973). Recipe correspondence. Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library, Skowhegan, Maine. 

What’s Cooking America. (2017). Lobster Newberg History and Recipe. What’s Cooking America, Retrieved from https://whatscookingamerica.net/History/LobsterNewbergHistory.htm

Whitaker, J. (2010). Who Invented…Lobster Newberg? Restaurant-ing through history, Retrieved from https://restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com/2010/04/19/who-invented-lobster-newberg/

Willett, M. (2013). The Remarkable Story of How Lobster went from being used as Fertilizer to a Beloved Delicacy. Business Insider, Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/the-history-of-gourmet-lobster-2013-8

Cheese Salad (Chilled): A Taste of Nostalgia

Kate Follansbee

The Margaret Chase Smith Recipes Research Collaborative is an interdisciplinary group of faculty, students, and staff at the University of Maine. Members represent a wide range of disciplines including history, sociology, folklore, anthropology, public policy, food science, and business. Senator Smith was a trailblazer, passionate about bringing people together through civil discourse, often over a home-cooked meal. She was a proud homemaker throughout her thirty-three years in office, and she maintained an extensive recipe collection, using recipes from her collection to entertain fellow policymakers in Washington and at home in Maine. The collaborative formed to support students and faculty interested in issues of food, recipes, politics, history, and their intersections.

This post is part of a series of student research projects exploring a recipe from Smith’s collection from an Honors tutorial taught by Dr. Rachel Snell in Spring 2019. Combined the students’ insights provide a new window into Sen. Smith’s private and public persona as well as the cultural, social, and scientific context of her lifetime. 

A congressional portrait of Sen. Smith.

Margaret Chase Smith was a Maine native and a groundbreaking woman in political history. As the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress, Smith maintained a domestic charm while becoming a powerful and independent politician. Smith lived her entire life (aside from her time in Washington) in Skowhegan, Maine. She never went to college and was a devoted wife to Clyde Smith, who was a member of the House of Representatives. As a politician’s wife, she honed her skills as a political candidate, learning how to connect with the people. Before Clyde died in 1940, he asked her to take his seat in the house. This was the start of her thirty-three-year career in Congress. 

While in office, Smith received many recipe requests. Smith had a collection of recipe utilizing Maine ingredients prepared on her Senate office stationery, always ready to mail a recipe. Many of her recipes were heavily influenced by Maine foods traditions, such as blueberry muffins, lobster dishes, and baked beans. An anomaly within the collection is a card containing the directions to prepare Cheese Salad (chilled). Our class, “Food, Feminism, and Femininity,” has focused on Smith’s recipe collection, and I selected the cheese salad recipe for analysis for several reasons. First, I was intrigued by the mix of ingredients. Cheese salad (chilled) contains mayonnaise, pineapple, maraschino cherries, green pepper, cream, walnuts, and paprika. The instructions are also quite vague, presenting a challenge for preparing the recipe. Finally, I wanted to look more deeply into the emergence of convenience foods in the twentieth century, and the idea of what constituted a “salad” during this period. 

Recipe for “Cheese Salad (Chilled)” from Smith’s recipe collection. Courtesy of the Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library. 

Reading through the recipe and noting the ingredients, reminded me of another class research project focused on Maine community cookbooks compiled in the 1920s and 1930s. My classmates and I noted a prevalence of molded salads in these texts, concoctions of fruit, vegetables, dairy, gelatin, and sometimes meat that were hugely unappealing to our twenty-first-century palates. In my examination of The Wilton Cookbook compiled by the ladies of the Wilton Episcopal Church in 1922, I noted a number of recipes for molded salads such as Nut Frappe, Pineapple Cream, and Lemon Sponge. These concoctions frequently relied on gelatin to hold the ingredients and whipped cream to provide taste and texture. These recipes especially are quite “of the times” in terms of ingredients. I noted many convenience foods, including whipped cream, which Diane Tye discusses in Baking as Biography, as “a convenience food which was often mixed with canned or frozen fruit.” Tye also covers the popularity of gelatin, The Wilton Cookbook contains advertisements for Knox Sparkling Gelatin at the top of every page, indicating the company as a potential sponsor of the cookbook but also the prevalence of gelatin in popular cooking.

The recipe and image for “Under-the-Sea Salad” from The Greater Jell-O Recipe Book(1931) provides a sense of the flavor combination and attention to presentation in popular molded salad recipes. Courtesy of the Michigan State University Archives. 

The insights from this research guided my interpretation of Smith’s Cheese Salad (Chilled) recipe. The “Salad” portion of Smith’s recipe collection mainly consists of recipes for salad dressing; however, in addition to the Cheese Salad, there are three other molded salad recipes. Ribbon Salad, Lime Cucumber Salad, and the simply named “Salad” that rely on combinations of convenience foods (canned fruit cocktail or tomato soup) with mayonnaise and/or cream cheese (Lime Cucumber Salad is an outlier calling for cottage cheese) with flavored Jell-O or plain gelatin served molded. These too offered some guidance for my analysis. 

Ingredients for assembling Cheese Salad (chilled). Photo by the author.

I had several initial questions. What is a cheese salad even supposed to taste like? How much salt and paprika? How do you serve it? It says, “freeze stiff,” so was I supposed to serve it stiff? Like ice cream? With very little information given, I decided to make cheese salad into a dip for crackers. I decided that for a dip, two packages of cream cheese would make the most sense. I decided that the chopped fruit should look like the fruit you would get in a fruit cake mix, so I chopped everything into tiny cubes. I determined that crushed pineapple would probably work better than chopping pineapple slices because they have a tendency to shred into pieces I added ½ teaspoon of salt, because that seems standard for recipes (based on things that I have cooked in the past) and ¼ of paprika, because I did not want to go overboard with a surprising flavor. In my opinion, even that much was too much—the paprika was too overwhelming. After mixing everything, I decided to put it in a rounded bowl so that when I flipped it, it would look molded. I based this decision on my knowledge of past generation’s fascination with molded salads. I will not lie; this step was quite unappealing; the mixture smelled odd and looked like lumpy, flesh-colored ice cream. While the outcome looks deceptively like a cake, cheese salad tastes like a fascinating mix of sweet and salty, and the paprika is quite evident.

Cheese Salad (Chilled) plated for serving with crackers. Photo by the author.

Serving this dish to different groups revealed changing tastes and the power of nostalgia in the enjoyment of a recipe. When I served this dish to my twenty-year-old peers, they were all disgusted, and I figured that the recipe was a complete failure. However, when I fed the same dish to a group of college professors, whose ages ranged from 30s to 60s, they had a completely different reaction. The professors remarked that the dish reminded them of housewarming parties from their childhood, their grandmothers’ cooking, and 1950s-esque foods. Many told me about similar recipes, such as ambrosia salad or dishes involving Cool Whip, mayonnaise, and Jell-O powder. All in all, I learned that taste changes with generation, so while cheese salad might not be such a hit at a sweet sixteen, consider it if you want to make something reminiscent of decades past.

Kate Follansbee is a third-year Communications major with a minor in Economics and member of the Honors College at the University of Maine. 


Janann Sherman, No Place for a Woman: A Life of Senator Margaret Chase Smith(New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001). 

Diane Tye, Baking as Biography: a Life Story in Recipes(Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010).

Methodist Episcopal Church, Wilton Cookbook (Nelson Print, 1922).

Smothered Beef: The Role of Meat in Margaret Chase Smith’s Foodways

Emma Bragdon

The Margaret Chase Smith Recipes Research Collaborative is an interdisciplinary group of faculty, students, and staff at the University of Maine. Members represent a wide range of disciplines including history, sociology, folklore, anthropology, public policy, food science, and business. Senator Smith was a trailblazer, passionate about bringing people together through civil discourse, often over a home-cooked meal. She was a proud homemaker throughout her thirty-three years in office, and she maintained an extensive recipe collection, using recipes from her collection to entertain fellow policymakers in Washington and at home in Maine. The collaborative formed to support students and faculty interested in issues of food, recipes, politics, history, and their intersections.

This post is part of a series of student research projects exploring a recipe from Smith’s collection from an Honors tutorial taught by Dr. Rachel Snell in Spring 2019. Combined the students’ insights provide a new window into Sen. Smith’s private and public persona as well as the cultural, social, and scientific context of her lifetime. 

Margaret Chase Smith is a prominent female figure in Maine’s history. This influential woman, a United States Senator, had a collection of various recipes including a recipe for smothered beef.  For this researcher, the recipe collection raised questions about how these recipes fit into Smith’s life, especially within the context of meat boycotts and the industrialization of meat during the twentieth century. Her biography and events during her lifetime provide some insight into how this recipe may have fit into her life. 

Born December 14, 1897, Smith was the eldest of George and Carrie Chase’s six children. The family frequently struggled financially, “her parents were blue-collar laborers. Her father, George, worked for a time as a waiter, but later became a local barber. The family could not survive on his meager salary.”[1]Margaret sought work from a very young age. She worked various jobs such as a store clerk, dishwasher, and telephone switchboard operator. During Margaret’s childhood, in other parts of the United States, working-class women protested the increasing cost of meat through organized boycotts. In 1902, for example, “Jewish immigrant women from New York City’s Lower East Side boycotted the higher cost of kosher meat.”[2]Considering that working-class families around the country struggled to afford large cuts of meat during this period, it is questionable whether Margaret grew up enjoying dishes like smothered beef. A favorite Maine recipe Smith frequently served in her political life and reminisced about Saturday suppers during her youth was Baked Beans, a protein dense meal that utilized small pieces of inexpensive salt pork and was often served with hot dogs. 

Group of primarily women and children stand in front of a restaurant in Hamtramck, Michigan during the 1935 Meat Boycott. Courtesy of Wayne State University Digital Collections. 

As Margaret grew up, she began to make a name for herself. In 1919 she got a job working for the local newspaper, the Independent-Reporter. While working for the newspaper company, she started to become part of the white-collar workforce, and “interacted with the business and political elite of Skowhegan.” After working for the newspaper company for eight years, she married Clyde Smith in 1930. Clyde, a politician, helped Margaret gain her place in politics.  During this period, another meat boycott occurred, “In the summer of 1935, housewives from all over Detroit called for a boycott of meat to protest the high cost of living.” There’s no evidence as to whether Margaret boycotted meat during her marriage with Clyde, but she could certainly afford beef due to changes in status and the meat industry. 

During Margaret’s lifetime, significant changes took place in the meat industry, “improvements in transportation changed the way food was bought and sold and lowered its price. Perhaps most importantly, the combined effects of industrialization and transportation worked together to reduce seasonality.”[3] Railroad and steamship companies involved themselves in the meat packing industry, and “took an early lead in supplying livestock to urban slaughterhouses.”[4] Railroad companies worked quickly to build cattle cars and stockyards. Building ships to be able to hold cattle was a must as well as building slaughterhouses at the harbors.  These new technologies helped to decrease the cost of meat. 

During Margaret’s lifetime, significant changes took place in the meat industry, “improvements in transportation changed the way food was bought and sold and lowered its price. Perhaps most importantly, the combined effects of industrialization and transportation worked together to reduce seasonality.”[1]Railroad and steamship companies involved themselves in the meat packing industry, and “took an early lead in supplying livestock to urban slaughterhouses.”[2]Railroad companies worked quickly to build cattle cars and stockyards. Building ships to be able to hold cattle was a must as well as building slaughterhouses at the harbors.  These new technologies helped to decrease the cost of meat. 

Smith’s recipe for Smothered Beef. Courtesy of the Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library.  

The recipe for smothered beef came into Margaret’s possession through her political connections. Elizabeth Sealey and John C. Sealey Jr., good friends of Smith for many years, gave her the recipe, likely around 1950 when both Margaret and John Sealey worked in politics. The recipe contains few ingredients: 3 to 6 pounds chuck or back of rump, one onion cut in half, one tablespoon vinegar, ¼ cup water, salt and pepper to taste, and enough meat for browning. The directions are simple. Brown the meat on all sides. Add the remaining ingredients put them into the iron kettle with the meat. Once the meat has started to cook, reduce the heat. Allow the meat to simmer for four to six hours. Keep the liquid to make gravy. The recipe would have involved planning based on the time it took as well as knowledge on how to make gravy as the contributor of the recipe failed to provide a gravy recipe.  

Smith frequently entertained during her political career. Here, she attends to a centerpiece. Courtesy of the Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library.  

Throughout her lifetime, Margaret’s relationship with beef (a well-established status food in the United States) changed. Likely a rarity during her childhood, she may have used recipes like smothered beef to entertain political colleagues and friends later in life. Her former personal secretary, Angie Stockwell, reports toward the end of her life one of her favorite meals was baked potato, steak, and salad. A menu in her recipe collection suggests this was a frequent dinner party repast as well. One of Margaret’s appeals as a politician was that she never lost her rural Maine roots. During her campaigns, she was a frequent sight at bean suppers across the state and also entertained by offering baked beans, hot dogs, and brown bread to her husbands’ colleagues during his time in office. Her working-class roots remained a political asset. 

Smothered beef, prepared and photographed by the author. 

Note: This recipe can be easily adapted to a crockpot. Cook on high for four hours, then reduce the temperature to low for another six hours. 

Emma Bragdon is a third-year Biochemistry major and member of the Honors Collegeat the University of Maine. 


[1]Jeannette W Cockroft, “The Transformative Power of Work: The Early Life of Senator Margaret Chase,” Maine History47, no. 2 (2013), 237. 

[2]Emily L.B. Twarog, Politics of the Pantry: Housewives, Food, and Consumer Protest in Twentieth-Century America(Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 2017), 11.

[3]Katherine Leonard Turner, How the Other Half Ate: A History of Working Class Meals at the Turn of the Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014), 28.

[4]Jeffrey M. Pilcher, “Empire of the ‘Jungle,’” Food, Culture, and Society 7, no. 2 (2004), 68.