Family ties — and recipes — are strong in the household of Maxwell’s Strawberry Farm in Cape Elizabeth, a sixth-generation Maine berry farm.
Last year, Lois Bamford entered her mom’s recipe for Scandinavian almond cake in a contest in Good Housekeeping magazine—and she won! “I wanted to do it as a surprise for Mom,” she explained. The magazine featured this family favorite, but failed to mention her mother’s name: Elsie Maxwell. We featured Elsie, now 85, as our “Best Cook” in the May/June 2007 Yankee, and recently she wrote to tell me about daughter Lois’s prowess in the kitchen: “She goes well beyond me in cooking and baking. She’s always cooking for a crowd and does it with so much more ease than I’ve ever done.” But when I called Lois to find out more, she pshawed that idea: “Heavens! I’ve ruined more good meals …” She went on to say that her mother had taught her to cook when she was little. “The first thing she taught me was not to put the molasses through the sifter,” she said with a quick laugh. Modesty in the Maxwell family must be genetic.
Lois and her husband, Bill, live in the big family house overlooking the fields of Maxwell’s Strawberry Farm in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, a pick-your-own and wholesale produce operation. They’re the sixth generation to do so, with a history that includes bringing the strawberries to market in dories. Elsie and her late husband, Ken, ran the farm up until 2007, when Lois and Bill took over ownership. The whole enterprise has always been a mesh of family togetherness. Lois and Bill live on one side of the cavernous house, and Elsie lives on the other, always on hand to watch the grandchildren or dispense advice or cookies.
After church on Sundays, Lois and Elsie come home for Sunday dinner. “My mother could make a Sunday roast like nobody’s business, and she baked bread all the time, eight loaves at once,” Lois says. “I can’t make a roast like she does, but I do like to bake. I bake several times a week to keep Bill in cookies and muffins.” As if on cue, Bill comes in from his tractor, greets us, pours himself a cup of coffee, and pops his hand into the cookie jar. Refueled, he makes a quick exit back to the farm work.
The strawberry season is brief (three weeks if they’re lucky), but Lois freezes at least 20 quarts of berries to last them the winter. Today is a warm day, a good day for Lois’s famous strawberry sorbet, which she quickly assembles in the KitchenAid mixer she won in the Good Housekeeping contest. She says that Mother’s Day isn’t a big day in this house. There are four young adults in her household—and besides Lois, Elsie has three other children. All together, Elsie’s grandkids and great-grandkids range in age from 1 to 32. For Lois and Elsie, it’s enough to simply hear from all their children on Mother’s Day. “It’s just another day here,” Lois says. “We’re together all the time, every day of the year. Every day is Mother’s Day!”