Down East 2013 ©
A little girl was in here, examining the big shiny steel rack of sweets and breads just inside my kitchen door. “Hey, what're those?” she asks, pointing to something big and chocolate.
Ah, not from around here. “Those are whoopie pies.”
Experience has taught me to wait a moment.
It is so much easier when they are children.
Matinicus Island doesn't get a whole lot of tourists, of the truly clueless, passing-through variety; almost all who fit that description arrive in their own boat (a comical rant for another day.) Most who come here in the summer rent a camp for a week and have been regulars for years, or have family here, or own an ordinary-sized home and come and go until the water finally must be drained for winter. Lobsterman's wives, who in the past would have been here year-round and made sure we had more church suppers, now work on the mainland and come out for weekends. They bring friends, who bring children, who come to my little home bakery with spending loot in their tight little fists.
They would prefer not to be called “tourists.”
In July and August, I am a full-time baker. I wake up in the dark, tie on sensible shoes, switch my groggy brain to autopilot, prepare various goodies for many hours, and go through much of the day well-dusted with refined white flour (probably breathing more of the stuff than some carb-conscious people eat in a season.) My generally undisciplined hair spends the summer hauled back under a bandanna so I look like the graveyard shift cleaning lady in an office building. I, as they say, ain't much to look at.
Some of the more curiously-behaved (ie. yachting) tourists seem to think it a charming part of their vacation experience to snap photos of me working (“Come over here! Stand by those doughnuts! Take off your glasses!”) Note to you folks: this is my home, not Disneyland. If you really think you want a photo of some strange woman in a head-rag and a grease-spattered T-shirt, kneading bread and scowling at your repetitive abstract questions about island life, fine. Your mother should have taught you that it is good manners to ask first. No, I am not especially honored, and don't even start with me about You-Tube. Ahem. Sorry; off the subject.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will confess that on the first day my bakery was open this summer, I suspended the “no seating” rule for a local writer who was doing a story for the Boston Globe travel section. He had called first to make arrangements. As much as I cannot help but make light of the idea, held by many like him, that they are the very first to discover Matinicus, I couldn't really refuse to cooperate. He turned out to be a nice guy from this area and not a food snob or a “summer jerk” type at all. I shoved a bunch of parts catalogs, electrician's tools and EMS paperwork out of the way and invited them to sit down. He and his lady sat, drank Rock City coffee from real cups, ate blueberry coffee cake, doughnuts, and cinnamon rolls, not because they wanted so much but because I insisted, and tried to ask me the usual Matinicus questions while I tried to talk about freelancing for the Globe. It was more interesting for me to talk about his job than my own. That is not why he was here. He called me a couple of weeks later to check on a few facts. Not everybody does that.
It's a troglodytic existence, a cave-dweller's summer, and I am rarely out in the sunshine (although this year, not much of a loss, Ill admit.) The garden is a pathetic example of neglect. I am most regrettably not in swimming. That is not me reading in a hammock, and don't bother asking me about the condition of the walking trails. There are people who want cinnamon buns and cranberry scones, raisin bread and great big brownies, and it is my job to satisfy them. Like so many who work on the coast of Maine, this time of year couldn't be less of a vacation. All that being said, I love my job.
I enjoy seeing both friends and strangers smile as they enter my kitchen (having braved the seriously unprofessional mess in the entryway, and climbed over the rubber boots, gas torches, laundry baskets, chainsaws, whatever.) They assure me “It smells good in here!” hundreds of times a summer. Glad to hear it. It feels very good being the provider of the blueberry coffee cake, the purveyor of the sticky buns, and, as what's-his-name put it, “master of the mud pie” (DownEast magazine, August 2008. Please send me my complimentary copy.) I do wish that fellow had told us he was writing a story about Matinicus; instead, another freelancer posing as a random tourist. Lesson learned. It's been a long summer.
As I write, it is late August; the season's almost over. Soon, no more people immaculately dressed in white will be shoving photocopies of the Tuckanuck's old hand-drawn map in my face and asking about roads and trails that no longer exist. Soon, no more sincere but exasperating queries such as “What do you people do all year?” or “You mean people live here in the winter?” Soon, no more yachters ranging around in my very industrial and under-maintained dooryard looking for seating among the welding practice because the concept of my establishment being “take-out” doesn't quite register.
Soon, no more customers pointing to the large chocolate sandwiches stuffed with vanilla filling and asking, with accents most diverse, “So, what's those things?”
Those are whoopie pies, I say. They just look at me. Uh huh. What idiot thought that up? It's bad enough explaining the etymology of “anadama” all summer. I will not speculate on “whoopie pie.” Two unrelated cookbooks claim that “these are so good they'll make you say 'whoopie!'” That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.
Eva Murray never, despite some bouts of fatigue, mix whoopie pie batter with wrenches. Look for Part 2 of her whoopie rant on Down East.com.