AUGUSTA — Fans of Brownie Schrumpf gathered Saturday afternoon at the University of Maine at Augusta to celebrate her induction into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame, and to sing the praises of the beloved 94-year-old cooking guru whose folksy food column appeared weekly in the Bangor Daily News for four decades.
Mildred Brown Schrumpf, affectionately known as Brownie, was unable to attend the ceremony due to illness. But a nephew, Roland LaVallee of Winthrop, accepted the certificate for her, and attorney Dana Devoe of Orono presented it to her Sunday at the Orono Nursing Home where she now lives.
Schrumpf was one of two Maine women inducted this year into the Hall of Fame based on her outstanding contribution to improving opportunities for all Maine women. Ethel [Billie] Wilson Gammon of Livermore Falls, founder of the Washburn-Norlands Living History Center, also was chosen for the honor.
The Maine Women’s Hall of Fame, established in 1990, is co-sponsored by the Maine Federation of Business and Professional Women and the University of Maine at Augusta. Past inductees include the late Sen. Margaret Chase Smith and Mabel Wadsworth of Bangor who helped establish the Maine Family Planning Association.
Schrumpf and Gammon became the 11th and 12th members of the Hall of Fame.
On Saturday, friends, family and colleagues happily shared memories of Brownie, the diminutive cook, home economist, nutritionist, author and teacher who was never without a smile and a wise piece of culinary advice. Her cookbooks, “The Flavor of Maine” and “Memories from Brownie’s Kitchen,” became staples in kitchens everywhere.
Brownie’s cooking and teaching prowesses, knowledge of food preparation, boundless energy and community spirit were recalled by Fred Hutchinson, president of the University of Maine; U.S. Rep. John Baldacci; Katherine Musgrave, UM professor of nutrition; and NEWS reporter Joni Averill, representing publisher Richard J. Warren who was not able to attend the ceremony.
Born in Readfield in 1903, Brownie graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in home economics. She was the assistant 4-H Club leader for Maine and the Penobscot County 4-H Club agent in the 1920s and ’30s, and later taught home economics at the University of Maine, Orono, and cooking at the YWCA in Bangor.
Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, Brownie was the Maine Food Products Promoter for the Maine Department of Agriculture. She also ran a series of food demonstrations on television and served as assistant executive director and acting director of the General Alumni Association of the University of Maine.
“Everywhere there was a need, there was Brownie,” said Priscilla Dodge of Dixmont, a retired librarian who remembered Brownie cooking meal after meal for the families of those who were ill, visiting local nursing homes, shopping for groceries for senior citizens and chauffering them about.
Dodge said that Brownie would often say that “older people don’t like to drive in bad weather.”
“The funny thing is, these people were five or 10 years younger than Brownie herself,” said Dodge, chuckling. “She just never seemed to age.”
Dodge, a retired librarian, said that when she became aware that the Women’s Hall of Fame Committee was looking for nominees, she immediately thought of Brownie. Dodge joined the NEWS and the University of Maine General Alumni Association in nominating Schrumpf for the Hall of Fame.
“If she’s not in it, she should be,” contended Dodge, who, as a child, would watch her mother cut Brownie’s recipes out of the newspaper and refer to her with any cooking query.
“She represented Down East cooking at its best,” Dodge recalled Saturday. “Whenever my mother had a problem with a recipe, there was Brownie on the other end of the phone.”
UM President Frederick Hutchinson also retained fond memories of Brownie, who taught home economics to his wife, Dione. On their way home from school, his two daughters and other children in the Orono neighborhood would make a beeline for Brownie’s kitchen where she’d heap homemade cookies upon them, he said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. John Baldacci said that Brownie also had been his father’s home economics teacher at UM and that she instilled in him a love for good food and for cooking.
“He had so much respect for her,” said Baldacci, whose father died several years ago. “She made a real impact on him. He would have wanted me to speak here today.”
Katherine Musgrave, a professor of nutrition at UM, said Saturday that when she first moved to Maine from the South in the 1960s, she was unfamiliar with how to prepare shellfish and would often call Brownie late at night for culinary advice.
“I knew she would be up long after midnight,” Musgrave said, chuckling. “She had boundless energy.”
“Brownie exemplifed what we try so hard to teach in nutrition education — that food must be good and the preparation simple,” the professor added.
Musgrave said that in 1973 when the energy crisis precipitated an interest in canning foods, she counted on Brownie to always have “a ready answer.”
“Brownie had more knowledge about canning, pickling and preserving than could be found in any extension or food book,” she said.”And the beauty of Brownie was that she never tried to teach anything that she hadn’t done herself.”
Meanwhile, Joni Averill of the NEWS said Brownie’s columns were not so much about food, but about living.
“Her food columns weren’t really about mixing ingredients properly to make a product, they were about mixing ingredients properly to make a life,” Averill noted.
“If you read several of Brownie’s columns, you discover at the outset you’re not really reading at all. You are actually standing beside her, in her kitchen, and she is gently, firmly, lovingly, instructing you. She is not talking to you, she is guiding you through a process that is guaranteed to succeed if you follow her directions,” Averill told the group.
Roland LaVallee happily recalled the homemade candies his aunt would continually bestow upon the family.
“The caramels were my favorite,” he said.
Rick Warren, NEWS publisher, agreed that everyone coveted Brownie’s famous confections.
“We all eagerly looked forward to holidays when Brownie would bring in samples of her holiday cooking to share with us. It was the lucky ones who first saw her coming through the door, because they often got all her soft, creamy caramels,” he wrote in a statement which Averill presented at the celebration.
Meanwhile, LaVallee said Brownie would have been “flattered to pieces” to have received such accolades on Saturday. Still, everyone agreed that the lively little cook deemed pats on the back totally unnecessary.
“She’d have done everything exactly the same way without the recognition,” said Hutchinson.