This weekend, I am traveling to Maine to attend my 30th college reunion. My emotions are somewhere between yikes and yippee.
How can it be that long ago that I first stepped onto the campus of this magical little place where I spent four of the best and challenging years of my life? It seems incredible really.
In the college process, I was lucky and I am not talking about grades or scores. I am talking about gut. I knew from the minute I stepped onto this campus that it was my place. It reminded me of other happy places I had spent meaningful time. The day was beautiful and all of the students were outside enjoying the sunshine. Smiles abounded. L.L. Bean sweaters, bermuda length shorts and moccasins, one of the “uniforms” of the time were on full display. I still remember the ultra preppy outfit I wore to my interview complete with a kilt, knee socks, loafers and a Susan Bristol sweater. It was the 80’s after all and The Preppy Handbook was all the rage! Forgive me for dating myself.
When I think of my college years, there are too many memories to list here. What has survived the passage of time is my friendships. I was fortunate that so many of my friends were originally from the New England area, largely Massachusetts which made staying in touch even easier before the era of cellphones, Facebook and Snapchat! I will see only a handful of them this weekend as, let’s face it, a 30th reunion is not always the biggest draw. But I will be grateful to spend time with those who can get there and to two of my best friends (who happened to marry each other) with whom I’ll be spending the weekend at their beautiful home near the ocean.
As this is a food blog, I have to also tell you that the college had way back then, and still has, some of the best food around. They are always near the top of any “top college food” list you can google. What I remember first and foremost (other than our own air popped popcorn with the little metal container to melt butter) is the “welcome” lobster bake we had during freshman orientation. It was so much fun to sit on the ground with newspaper as placemats and enjoy a feast. I remember a few of us had to teach a friend from Pennsylvania how to eat a lobster! The lobster bake tradition continues at reunion which will be fun.
Second, the Student Union Center was always a place to stop off for a quick bite between classes. They had a sandwich that was quite simple – a bagel with a slice of cheese, tomato, lettuce and onion with deli mustard that I used to love (and still order sometimes at Bruegger’s). I think it was called a Big Bear or something like that.
Third, I remember Cecile. Cecile was this tiny woman with a booming voice who used to check us into the cafeteria by our 5 digit student ID number. Over the course of a year, she memorized everyone’s number and instead of calling your name as you approached the check-in, she would lyrically sing out your number. She made us all giggle with affection as she was the sweetest woman ever.
Finally, I remember with great fondness the Blueberry Muffins that the Union served many, but not all days. I have absolutely no idea if they were homemade or from a mix. If they had Maine grown wild blueberries, it was lost on me. I just knew that one of my friends and I loved them and if they were available, we would grab one, maybe two. The tops were big enough that you could pull them off – you know that kind of muffin. And they were the perfect balance of sweet and tart. Over the years, these muffins have disappeared from the cafeteria as has the bagel sandwich, only a small representation of how much things have changed in 30 years for the better and worse.
A good blueberry muffin recipe can be elusive in my opinion. I’ve tried many, but they were either tasteless or too sweet. When I worked on the cookbook, The Gaining Ground Table that I’ve mentioned on the blog, we received a blueberry muffin recipe from a woman who lives here in town named Andrea. Turns out she submitted a beloved recipe of her aunt’s that she had since she was 9. Andrea’s father and aunty Bertha grew up on a farm and after she and her cousins picked blueberries from the bushes behind the farmhouse, they would bring them to her aunt in the hopes she would make her famous muffins.
These muffins seem to have just the right amount of sweetness to enhance the flavors of the blueberries. They are delicate and tender, especially if you bring all your ingredients to room temperature first. Properly creaming the butter and sugar together and slowly adding your remaining ingredients should keep your batter light and result in a beautiful consistency for these muffins. Mix just until everything comes together to avoid your muffins becoming too dense. Dust the berries with a little flour so they don’t sink to the bottom of the muffins and add nuts if you like (I do not add any to mine). You can add a little sparkling sugar to the tops of the muffins before baking if you’d like to make them pretty.
Biting into them reminds me of taking a break between classes at school and ushers me back to the 80’s. Maybe I’ll check and see if I can find that old kilt for a laugh.
Do you have a favorite food memory from your college cafeteria (good or bad!)? Tell me about it in the comments!
I use an ice cream scoop (2 ounces or 1/4 cup) so my muffins are all about the same size…