Seafood as an Accessible Family Affair
New Book to Connect Cooks, Fish, and Coastal Communities
Orr’s Island fisherman Herman Coombs stands on Alden’s Wharf and watches as a lobster boat cuts across Lowell’s Cove. “Turn!” he directs its captain, his 15-year-old daughter Jocelyne. She spins the wheel of the Orca (named after the vessel in Jaws, one of her family’s favorite movies) and makes a sharp U-turn but comes up just short of the floating dock’s edge. Jocelyne revs the engine and maneuvers to circle back around for another berthing attempt.
She typically hauls traps in the summer and sells the lobsters for Next Generation Lobster Co. On this trip, Jocelyne’s passengers are her brother and business partner, 11-year-old Riley, and their mom, Monique. Monique is the director of marine programs at the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and maintains a blog chronicling the Coombs’ life as a commercial fishing family.
Commercial fishing has always been physically and fiscally risky, but the pandemic has compounded the financial strain on fishing families. The state’s seafood industry—which brought in $674 million in revenue in 2019—is vital to Maine’s economy. Due to the pandemic’s effects on tourism, restaurants, and institutional dining, Maine fishermen have watched their sales plummet even as the cost of fishing itself (fuel, bait, gear, and mooring fees) remains high.
Monique—with fellow fisherman’s wife and blogger Rebecca Spear of Falmouth—are curating The Maine Coast Fishing Families Seafood Cookbook, scheduled for publication in time for holiday gift giving. Inspired by a long line of community cookbooks produced by fishermen’s wives from Jonesport to Cape Neddick, the proceeds from the sale of this book will help maintain the smaller working waterfronts that keep Maine’s fishing families afloat.
Alden’s Wharf is one of these small and privately owned waterfronts. As she directs visitors to step around the wharf’s weaker planks, Monique explains that while the managers of larger wharves (like Long Wharf and Chandler’s Wharf in Portland) can land federal economic development grants for maintenance, it’s more difficult to find $10,000–$15,000 grants to fund repairs for smaller waterfront assets. Proceeds from the cookbook will benefit places like Alden’s Wharf. “They need the most help right now,” she says.
The new cookbook will encourage Mainers and tourists to buy, cook, and eat almost every species commercially harvested from the Gulf of Maine—from alewives and crab to pollock and tuna. There will be over 100 recipes for soups, appetizers, and main courses collected from across the Maine community, and headnotes will tell the stories of how they were created and how they should be served.
“We’re keeping it close to an old-timey cookbook, while also including some updated recipes,” says Spear. Those include her baked Warm Maine Crab Dip (recipe below), which she makes for most family gatherings, and Monique’s unique take on the Maine classic corned hake, which involves avocados. The women want the book to convey to cooks that serving seafood at home doesn’t have to be expensive, complicated, or difficult.
Spear’s favorite part of creating the book was reading through the seafood anecdotes written by those who submitted recipes. After all, the purpose of the book is to connect readers and eaters with people working to bring Gulf of Maine seafood to the table.
Warm Maine Crab Dip
This recipe is adapted from one written by Rebecca Spear of Falmouth. She serves this recipe at most every family gathering. It will also be included in the upcoming Maine Coast Fishing Families Seafood Cookbook. Spear and fellow fisherman’s wife Monique Coombs are curating the community cookbook, the proceeds of which will benefit working waterfront projects in Maine. Copies will be available later this fall at local bookstores and through the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons butter, softened
¼ cup mayonnaise
⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 teaspoon hot sauce (optional)
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon lemon juice
Salt to taste
8 ounces Maine crab meat
¼ cup breadcrumbs
In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, butter, and mayonnaise thoroughly. Add ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, hot sauce if using, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and salt. Fold in the crab meat. Transfer the mixture to an ovenproof dish. Mix remaining Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs, then sprinkle the mixture on top of the dip. You can refrigerate this for 3–4 hours before baking. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325°F. Cover dish containing the dip with aluminum foil and cook covered for 15 minutes. Remove cover and cook until the top is slightly browned and the dip is bubbling hot all over, about 10 minutes. Serve warm with sliced bread, crackers, or sliced crudités.
Helen Hornor is a rising high school senior and an aspiring writer who is passionate about food. She is excited to further explore the Maine food world and what her home of 16 years has to offer.