Stop In for an Old-Time Maine Mug-Up
COME, all ye hearty trenchermen, and we'll do what we can before the hour is too late. I suspect the mug-up is an endangered species, but perhaps not.
Let us consider: The other morning a new-generation lobsterman stepped into our home on another errand, and I greeted him cordially in the ancient manner of the down-Maine coastal esoterics, thusly: ``Hey! Come in! Marm's just coolin' a batch of buttermilk mug-up doughnuts, and you look peaked and undernourished!''
He also looked baffled, and he was. ``What's that?'' he asked.
``You're a fifth-generation Friendship lobster catcher, and you're asking me what a mug-up is?''
``Eyah, guess so.''
I mulled that over most of the forenoon, and, wishing to consult the best authority, I dialed the number of Elisabeth Ogilvie, the novelist who does those tales of the folks who live on Bennett Island. Liz clams the second cove over from me, but is working on another Bennett Island book. When she responded I said, ``Do the folks on Bennett Island still have mug-ups?''
She said, ``All the time!'' I told her about the young lobster catcher who asked what a mug-up is, and her answer is helpful. She said, ``Prolly the junk-food influence; maybe the young ones have another name for it.''
``Could be,'' I said, and then she told me that when we were over her way to stop in for a mug-up.
A mug-up is a lunch, but with a Maine-coast difference. Miss Ogilvie did tell me a reader of her books out in Wyoming thought her Bennett Island mug-up was a fine idea and began holding mug-ups. ``Makes me proud,'' she said, ``as if I'd done something to improve the world.''
A Maine mug-up has some of the insistence of the legendary Arabian guest demand; it is not good breeding to refuse hospitality. Our women make cakes and have them ready should a mug-up happen. Mothers teach their daughters always to ``Boil an extry potato, you never know when somebody's coming; and if nobody does, you can make fries for breakfast.''
Then I put in a phone call to Raquel Boehmer, who lives out on Monhegan Island and is an authority on many things. She would know about a cookbook put together some time back by the ladies of the island and meant to raise funds for the Monhegan Island library. The title is ``Mug-up Time on Monhegan.'' The library needs the money more than you do, so if you send $15, you'll get a copy by mail as soon as the January sea-smoke subsides and the mail boat resumes service. It's a special spiral binding job, and each recipe was supplied by an islander.
Do you know about Monhegan Island? It's a jewel set in the North Atlantic between Port Clyde, Maine, and Spain. It was first visited by Europeans and used as a fisheries station some 400 years or so before Columbus was born. Did you know the Mayflower was a fish carrier between Monhegan and Plymouth, England? They chartered her to bring the Pilgrims and washed the salt brine from her accommodations. The skipper, who had been to America many times, said he knew the way - just go to Monhegan Island and turn, let's see, now, er, go to Monhegan Island and turn to port. Port, that's right - no, left. Well, anyway, I know how to get to Massachusetts.''
Monhegan has about 50 people, half Democrats. A library is an expensive pleasure, and summer folks have been generous. The island attracts artists by scads, and when the State of Maine fish warden comes to check ``keepers'' he disguises himself by carrying an easel.
Bird watchers outnumber sea ducks and medricks, and this cookbook not only tells you how to cook shore greens, but where to go to pick some. Another favorite recipe will be that of Islander Sherm Stanley for conches. You let them stand over night, and then throw them away.
The lobster fishermen who live on Monhegan Island have their own season, which starts on New Year's Day and runs into midsummer. If, for any reason, a fisherman is unable to set his traps on Trap Day (Jan. 1), the others help him so he can, or wait until he's ready. Monhegan fishermen all go at once. And, there is small future ahead for any off-islander who intrudes on this fellowship.
This cookbook has a flavor that helps along the mug-up purpose. The social side of a mug-up, the bantering and the sharing of gossip and opinions goes with the food. ``Come in, come in!'' says Nellie, ``I got your favorite gingerbread, and ain't that something that happened to Hester?''
If you can't think of any Hester you might know, please - please - don't ask who Hester is.
You're at a mug-up - remember? When I was first in school, the hot lunch hadn't been invented. We walked home for noonin' if the distance was suitable. Farm youngsters brought their dinner in dinner pails, which were perhaps called nose bags. But the scholars from the tidal end of town brought mug-ups.
Often these mug-ups would include a sea-moss pudding. Since that time, sea moss or Irish Moss has become a ``stabilizer'' in all manner of foods, and everybody eats some one way or another every day. Carrageen, I think they call it. It's what the baker uses to make whipped cream stand up on a cake in the hot store window. The recipe for that pudding is in the Monhegan cook book. You can pick moss at Fish Cove, Monhegan Island, ME 04852.