Jokers, Sourdough, And the Far North

AT Rockwood, Maine, there was Tessier's Store. It was the last chance for anybody bound into the North Maine Woods to pick up what he didn't have. Coming up from Greenville on the west side of Moosehead Lake, the visitor would turn from the sheer rock of Mount Kineo, pause at Tessier's, and then head into the wilderness over a private road of the Great Northern Paper Company. The next place he came to would be 20 miles beyond, a spot known as Twenty Mile. Here he would find a Great Northern checkpoint where a gatekeeper would ask his name, his errand, his destination, and how long he planned to stay. Warren Crosby was the ostiary.

It is a custom, pretty-nigh a rule, of the woods that everybody stops at Tessier's whether he needs groceries or not, as a public service. Tessier has a telephone and over the woods line he can be asked to send something ``in.'' Or, somebody who needs something can ask the game warden, or a scaler, or a tourist, to tell Tessier. So everybody stops to ask Tessier if there are any errands. On one visit, long ago now, I paused to gas up and get a bottle of milk, and Tessier said no, at the moment he had nothing ``going in.'' Then he added, ``But at Twenty Mile you might ask Warren Crosby if he can't send me out a little money on account. I got bills, and he's run up quite a tab.''

Thus, innocent as a new-born babe, I came to know Mr. Crosby. When I reached Twenty Mile, a kindly sort with the affability of apple pie and the poise of a Shakespearean stepped from his camp with a clipboard and asked my name and errand. He reminded me that all loaded trucks have the right of way, that I should be mindful of fires, and that speed was limited to 35 m.p.h. I then discreetly mentioned Mr. Tessier's request. This was in 1962, mid-July, and up to that hour Mr. Crosby had checked 459 trucks, 1,711 automobiles, and 5,717 visitors, including me, for the season. Almost all of the visitors reminded Mr. Crosby, in passing, that he should send out some money and reduce his debt at Tessier's Store. On this occasion, Mr. Crosby cocked his head at me and said, ``How big a vent hole do I put in a breadbox?''

Some good jobs in the woods are in lonely places. Mr. Crosby had one of them. To amuse himself, he liked to conduct surveys and get a consensus of the Twenty Mile opinions. I was later told that in the spring, when Mr. Crosby came to begin checking the summer traffic, he would make a cash deposit at Tessier's Store, and every fall on his way out Mr. Tessier would refund the unexpended amount. They were the best of friends, and Mr. Crosby never bought things on tick. Sometimes when innocent foils reminded him to send out some money, Mr. Crosby would look up and down and then caution against buying things from Tessier, because of poor quality. I heard that Del Bates, Great Northern clerk at Scott Brook lumber camp, responded that if the breadbox were for Warren Crosby's sourdough specialty, the vent hole should be as big as possible.

Warren Crosby's Sourdough Bread

Starter:

In 1-1/2 quart glass or earthenware container, mix 1 envelope active dry yeast, 2 cups warm water, 2 cups all purpose flour. Cover with cheesecloth. Let stand for 48 hours, stirring 2 or 3 times. To use, stir and pour off amount needed for recipe. Then, as used, replace with equal parts of flour and water; stir and let stand a few hours. Cover and refrigerate. Add nothing but flour and water as used up.

Sourdough Bread:

Put 1 cup starter in large bowl. Stir in 1 cup warm water and 2 cups flour. Mix well. Let stand 14 to 26 hours. Work in 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons salt, 2 cups flour. Turn on board, knead until smooth. Let set 10 minutes. Shape into 1 or 2 loaves. Let rise on cookie sheet for 20 minutes. Place a shallow pan of water on floor of oven. Bake 40 to 50 minutes at 375 or 400 degrees F. Enjoy!

Next time I pulled in at Twenty Mile, the door of Warren's camp was sending forth a hot-bread announcement. I said, ``What did you decide about the size of a breadbox vent?''

``Three-quarters of an inch - you can buy the little screened holes at any hardware store. Tessier's has 'em.''

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