Twenty-five years ago a bunch of us were sitting around with the hope of improving everything, and we came up with the idea of the Maine Blueberry Festival.
The Maine blueberry, as distinguished from other kinds, is wild - it grows not in gardens or on plantations, but on the hillsides and barrens as it did when the Indians first harvested the fruit. Today the wild plants get care, some pruning, and the crop is a major harvest and helps many Mainers meet their bills.
The Blueberry Festival would attract attention; a promotional stunt. Union Fair, held annually in our town of Union, is scheduled at about the right time, so Union Fair took on the festival, and in 25 years it has become a big attraction. A sort of blueberry museum prevails, there are blueberry pies to please the crowds, a big blueberry pie eating contest, and the annual selection of a Blueberry Queen. The pie eating contest makes the biggest mess you ever saw , and the crowning of Miss Maine Blueberry is a delightful ceremony that the Miss America people should come and study. Union Fair never makes a mistake.
So 25 years later, as one of the thinker-uppers, Union Fair asked me to come back and crown Queen Blueberry, to attend the banquet for the candidates (the Maine Blueberry Princesses), and to sit on the stage with the lovelies and some Union Fair officers. The ceremony is held before the big racetrack grandstand, which in the afternoon had been vantage for the hoss-trots.
Now I'll tell you the story:
At the first banquet for these princesses, held in the dining hall of the community church, the whole Blueberry Festival was upstaged by a Union housewife that you may know as Mrs. Howard Hawes. Closer to home, she is Jackie Hawes, and as a member of the banquet committee Jackie brought a slather of baking powder biscuits. These appeared at table piping hot, and at once all other business was thrust aside and everybody was eating and talking about Jackie's biscuits.
Maine is a hot-biscuit state, and almost anybody properly fetched up can turn out an excellent biscuit, but Jackie had something else going for her. The young lady who would be crowned queen that evening tucked two biscuits in her purse - saving them to eat after the contest.
That's the kind of biscuits Jackie makes. And the wife of our Maine commissioner of agriculture paid the supreme compliment - she asked Jackie for her receet!
As reported just 24 years ago in this column, Jackie's receet went verbatim like this:
''I don't have a receet, I just make 'em. I think it was six cups of flour I used - but I don't use any measuring cup. I just take a teacup out of the cupboard and dip. No, I don't sift it. Then I kind of guess how many cups I've used, and put in two teaspons of baking powder for each cup. Somewhere near. That would be, two-times-six, 12 teaspoons, wouldn't it? So, now let's see - some salt. I guess a tablespoon. Next you have to have shortening, and you want two good gobs of it, a couple about the size of an egg. (Business of holding up both hands with the fingers indicating two medium-large hens' eggs.) And then I take a pastry cutter, one of those things you mix shortening into flour with, and if I don't have one handy I use my fingers, and I get it feeling just right before I put in the milk. How much milk? Oh, perhaps a quart. About a quart, I'd say. Then when it feels about right, I take it on the board and knead it some - not too much - and cut the biscuits and put them in the pans. Then I shove them in a 450-oven and take them out when they're done. I guess that isn't very much of a receet, but that's the way I make biscuits.''
That evening, at the fairgrounds, the commissioner lauded the blueberry princesses, wished them success, and suggested (because the subject was on his mind) that they all learn to make biscuits like Jackie's.
So the years have passed, and just now at Union Fair I crowned the new Blueberry Queen, beautiful young lady, and afterward somebody passed me a pan of 24 magnificent baking powder biscuits as my stipend. Jackie, the same, had baked them for me after all those years.
I protest that I had nothing to do with selecting Maine's new Blueberry Queen. Had I had, it would spoil the story. Jackie's 24 biscuits had nothing to do with it.
The new queen, you see, is Jackie's daughter, Gail.