Best Cook: Strawberries
For four precious weeks in early summer, strawberries by the ton come up out of Maxwell’s strawberry fields, which lie across Cape Elizabeth like random quilt squares. They come by the truckload to the Maxwell farm market, to Maine supermarkets, and into Elsie Maxwell’s kitchen and freezer. Ken and Elsie Maxwell are the fifth generation to farm the land around Cape Elizabeth; their children are the sixth. That adds up to more than 50 years on the farm for Ken and Elsie, and even more Junes filled with the bounty of these ocean-kissed strawberries.
There isn’t much that can be done with a strawberry that Elsie hasn’t done. But her favorite recipe is for krumkaker (waffle cookies shaped into cones), because it mixes her heritage (Norwegian) with strawberries. In her rambling farmhouse kitchen, Elsie is whipping up the batter and heating up the krumkake iron, which has a Scandinavian decoration imprinted on it. The eggs come first, then the butter. “If it’s Scandinavian, everything is butter and eggs,” she says. Elsie learned to “cook Norwegian” from her mother, who came to Portland at the age of 12 from Oslo, Norway. “I love to bake,” Elsie says. She says she would rather cut off her finger than throw away a recipe.
She spoons thick batter onto the hot iron and closes the lid. Steam floats from the sides of the griddle; the room fills with the sweet fragrance of these hot confections. The door to the kitchen opens, and two tiny grandchildren spill in with begging eyes. Little fingertips clutch the edge of the countertop. Elsie fills two cones with the mixture she has prepared beforehand — whipped cream and strawberries — and hands one to each child. They walk away from the stove, working on the beautiful treat, radiating contentment.
Elsie serves these anytime, but especially and always on the 17th of May, which is Constitution Day for Norwegians. And, not so incidentally, Ken’s birthday as well.
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