Mild weather stayed with us through the end of September. Most of the summer population was gone, but the SEA PRINCESS tour boat continued to bring a steady stream of day visitors to Islesford while the good weather held up. On Oct. 2 the weather was mild enough to prompt several Dip of the Month Club members to take their October swim. Joy Sprague recited an appropriate verse about the sea by Edna St. Vincent Millay, as Jesse Minor, Cindy Thomas, Tim Janacek, and yours truly got ready to run into the water. Tim’s wife, Terry, stood by on the beach to be our lifeguard. Before we could get wet, Stefanie Alley and Rebecca Larkin came in from their day of lobster fishing and said they would join us if we waited while they put the boat on the mooring. Barbara Meyers, from Great Cranberry, showed up and we talked her into an impromptu dip. Later that afternoon, Gretchen and Ian VanDusen and Richard and Eliza Ramsey took a family dip together at the Sand Beach. The water temperature was 54 degrees, 4 degrees warmer than last year at this time.

So far, October has been gray and wet. Over nine inches of rain fell during Columbus Day weekend, and many folks had flooded basements. The weather did not stop people from coming back to the islands to close up summer homes and come together one more time for food, fellowship and information at two community harvest suppers. The town’s Comprehensive Plan Committee traveled between the islands by boat on a stormy night to present their spring survey results to each of the gatherings. The municipal issues that were consistently mentioned as needing attention were: solid waste, motor vehicles, mosquitoes, high-speed Internet access, fire protection and insurance, and law and ordinance enforcement.

As for the meals, many good cooks on Great Cranberry Island helped to prepare a delicious boiled dinner featuring corned beef, potatoes, cabbage, onions, turnips, parsnips and beets. Fresh apple crisp completed the meal. On Islesford, the harvest supper featured chicken pot pies, green salads and a variety of desserts. People were taking seats when Richard Alley asked his wife, Lil, why she didn’t sit down. “I’m waiting to see Anna’s pan go by,” she replied. Anna Fernald has the reputation for making one of the best chicken pot pies on the island. As I wondered how my own chicken pie was being received, I started to think how islanders are often known or remembered for their cooking.

The Cranberry Cove Restaurant, owned and run on Great Cranberry by sisters Ada Rice and Leona McAllister during the 1960s and 70s, was known for some pretty spectacular food. Ada made such a good lemon pie that she used to make sure to leave a lemon seed in the filling so people would know it was real lemon, not pudding. She also made a great blueberry pie. Her sister Polly Bunker says, “These days people put thickeners in their blueberry pies and think that’s how they should be, but they’re just not good unless they are sloppy.” Leona had a way with fried fish, and people often called ahead to ask if there was any “scratch soup” (chowder) on the menu. Esther Spurling was known to make a terrific dark chocolate cake, and Annie Alley still makes a cream cake that could win a prize. Last year, at the Town Meeting luncheon, not just a few people were disappointed when someone accidentally dropped Annie’s cream cake before it could be served.

In summers past, on Islesford, Earl Spurling used to run the “Island Kitchen” from his house. His baked beans were legendary and he made excellent bread, pies and Indian pudding. One of my favorite memories from childhood is walking to the store early in the morning to pick up fresh donuts, made by Hildegarde and Emerson Ham. They had previously been made by her mother, Sadie Fernald, who was known as one of the best cooks on the island. My sister-in-law, Karen Smallwood, has some of those recipes penned by her great grandmother when they used to be known as “receipts.” Ingredients are listed in measurements such as “1 dessert spoon of spices” and “3/4 cup molasses filled with sour milk.” There are no oven temperatures or times written down. Karen remembers her Aunt Eleanor Spurling’s custard pie and icebox cookies. Lil still makes the icebox cookies, along with wonderful gingerbread and date cookies. Lil remembers Margie Phippen making the tallest meringues by whipping up the egg whites on a platter with a fork. Julie Alley made wonderful butter pie with a recipe from Natalie Beal.

If I were to ask people on Islesford to connect present day cooks with the following foods: chocolate cake, cream puffs and watermelon pickles; the majority would quickly say, Karen Smallwood, Joy Sprague and Helen Dudman. On Great Cranberry, who makes the best dinner rolls? Jennifer Westphal. Who claims grilled cheese sandwiches as his specialty? Ashley Bryan. Most “good cook” reputations are earned and learned about at community suppers. Lucky dinner invitations also provide an introduction to some of the best island chefs. One friend learned about Bruce Fernald’s reputation as an excellent cook quite by accident when we were on the phone. Bruce interrupted me as he was going out the door, to ask if I would pick up some arugula for him when I went off-island. “Arugula?” asked my friend, Crystal. “Yes,” I said, “He’s making this great spice-rubbed glazed pork tenderloin for dinner and he needs arugula for the salad.” “Oh,” she replied. “You’ve just ruined my stereotype of the Maine lobster fisherman!”

Oct. 14, 2005