Lessons from a Backwoods Kitchen

By Ruth LaRoche (wife of Matthew LaRoche, Superintendent of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway).

I have had this reoccurring dream over my lifetime. In this dream, I need to figure out how I am going to feed 20 guests with one can of evaporated milk and a small package of venison. And I can’t find the flour.

Growing up as a Park Ranger’s daughter, I became used to dooryard visitors, pop-ins for tea and the occasional overnight guests. Many of them were co-workers. A surprising number of them were summer State Park campers that have become lifelong friends. And then there were a few VIPs along the way.

Having lived in the backwoods almost all my life, I learned early how important it was to plan ahead for groceries because of the remoteness of our home in the Allagash.  A trip to town for a forgotten item was a luxury we didn’t take. Also, we had to plan for extras since our game wardens and fire rangers knew just where to get a hot cup of coffee and a cookie. As our propane refrigerators were small, we always kept a supply of non-perishables in the cupboard: canned meats, dry milk, evaporated milk and powdered eggs along with traditional baking supplies.  I think we would find many of these foods missing from the family pantries of today. We weren’t too concerned with what we ate back then. We were just thankful that we had food to eat.

I was reminded of how significant this planning ahead is a few years back when we moved back to Churchill Dam in the spring of the year. We had intended to be there just a few of days and I thought I had brought enough food for the stay.  But my darling husband, being the friendly guy he is, invited a party of four canoeists to dinner. I think he then added a couple co-workers.  It was lucky for me that he had given me enough warning so I could go raid a neighboring ranger’s freezer and I got busy being creative as to how I was going to feed everyone.  But my Mama had taught me that there is always room for one more at the table and a big batch of hot bread would turn any meager meal into a feast.

In the end, the dinner was a success, but I learned my lesson with that incident and have tried to stay better prepared for unexpected company.  So, stop on by. I’ll put the coffee pot on the stove and rummage through my cupboards for you. As the coffee is brewing and you and Hubby are exchanging stories, just maybe I’ll mix up some fresh muffins – -because that’s what I love to do.

Basic Muffins
2 cups flour
½ cup sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1 cup milk
1 egg
¼ cup canola oil

Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease a muffin pan.  Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon together in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix milk, egg and oil together then add to flour mixture. Stir just enough to blend. Don’t over mix. Spoon batter into muffin tin and bake for 20 minutes.   Makes 12 muffins.

Add 1 cup of fresh or frozen berries to flour mixture and toss lightly before adding liquid mixture.
Add ½ cup chopped walnut to flour mixture and 1 mashed banana to liquid mixture.
Replace 1 cup of flour with 1 cup of cornmeal. Omit cinnamon.
Add 1 cup of chopped apples to flour mixture and toss lightly.

Ruth LaRoche is the wife of Matthew LaRoche, Superintendent of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.