Blueberries, the Revolution, Jesus, and Joe McCarthy

Maine BlueberriesTough political times and the upcoming blueberry harvest recall again Maine’s first female Republican Senator, who stood up to the demagogue Joe McCarthy and also served a great blueberry cake.

As I was reading Blueberries for All on Well, the New York Times Health blog, I started looking forward to my family’s annual harvest of Maine wild blueberries from the farm we have run since the 1930s in Brunswick.

The Clarence Larrabee family moved onto the property, then his sons, Carl and Percy Larrabee expanded it, buying any land they could find where wild blueberries grew. The property began to break up after my mother and her sisters inherited it, since only my mother was intent on continuing to farm. Ironically, that brought the Larrabee name into new prominence when the sisters’ chunks of the farm were sold to a developer who built million-dollar homes on what was called “Larrabee Estates.”

Family Splits Over ‘Revolutionary Matters’

The Larrabee name is historic in our town of Brunswick, Maine. Benjamin Larrabee was sent by investors to what was then an outpost of Massachusetts to found the community. Among his many responsibilities, he laid out Maine Street, where our house is located, and eventually died in a battle with native Americans. We are descended not from Benjamin but from his brother, Thomas, who left the town after a dispute with Benjamin “over Revolutionary matters” and settled in nearby Royalsborough (now Durham), where his family remained until 1920. They got together the cash to buy land, instead of renting from place to place, about a decade later.

Today, when I go home to Maine, I’m no longer the poor kid who lives in a shabby house and wears hand-me-downs. Even though I still live in a small home and buy most of my clothing at a second-hand store, people look at me and ask, with confused respect: “You’re a Larrabee?”

What Does a ‘Larrabee’ Look Like? Or a Christian?

Yes, I am a Larrabee. As I’ve always been. People just never knew it or saw in it a reason to value me.

That’s how it is being a follower of Jesus, isn’t it? Sometimes and in some places it causes people to see you with respect. Sometimes the vision you present as a follower is rather confusedly at odds with what they think a follower of Jesus ought to look like. They think a believer should be poor or rich, Republican or Democrat, Baptist or Catholic. Sometimes they can’t see that there is anything worth valuing in your godly spiritual heritage. What are love, joy, and peace worth compared with having all the stuff you want? Of what value is carrying difficult responsibilities with grace compared with being able to put yourself first?

Those are the kinds of questions we all answer for ourselves, sometimes more than once a day. In the meantime, I’m back to my blueberries and a command from God that we enjoy this life, simply because God has given it to us:

“Go, eat your food with gladness … for it is now that God favors what you do.” Ecclesiastes 9:7


Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith

In that spirit, here’s a blueberry cake recipe my mother made time and time again. The recipe originates with Margaret Chase Smith, the Maine Republican senator who challenged Joe McCarthy in 1950. Mom would have found it in Marjory Standish’s column in the Portland Press-Herald, which was later compiled in two volumes of “Cooking Down East.” What I learned from this recipe is that nutmeg is the perfect spice for blueberries and that it is almost impossible to put too many blueberries in any baked good.

Sen. Margaret Chase Smith’s Blueberry Cake

1/2 c. shortening
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. milk
2 c. sifted flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 c. blueberries

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round or square baking tins.
  2. Cream shortening; add sugar and beat until creamy. Add eggs and beat until light and foamy.
  3. Mix together and sift all dry ingredients.
  4. Add alternately to creamed mixture with milk.
  5. Fold in blueberries. (Hint: If using thawed or drained berries, toss berries in a bit of flour so they won’t sink to the bottom of the pans.)
  6. Pour into pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes until toothpick or skewer inserted at center comes out dry (no batter; may have berry juice).
  7. Cool in tins.
  8. Put layers together with frosting. Sprinkle top with confectioner’s sugar.

UPDATE: Frequent reader Cecelia Barker has informed me that this recipe, with its thin layers and limited frosting, is like an English tea cake. So feel free to bring out the best china cups and dessert dishes to serve this to your friends!

UPDATE2: Baked in two 8-inch square pans, this cake is thick enough to cut 16 pieces from each pan for a sweet snack or breakfast cake.



About Carlene Hill Byron

The former editor of New England Church Life and The New England Christian, Carlene Hill Byron is enjoying being home in Maine after 20 years in North Carolina. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. Find her at, and on Facebook at MyHouseHasHistory.
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6 Responses to Blueberries, the Revolution, Jesus, and Joe McCarthy

  1. advocacyarts says:

    I loved reading this Carlene. Even knowing you for a long while, I had no idea of this history you’ve shared. The cake sounds incredible!!! What kind of frosting do you feel compliments the cake the best?–with gladness–toh

    • Carlene Byron says:

      We always just used the ‘classic’ Fannie Farmer vanilla butter cream — you know — cream butter, mix in confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and enough milk to get the right consistency.

  2. Sue says:

    Cream cheese frosting is also great with it….

  3. dave says:

    really nice, enjoyed the old memories Percy was a wonderful friend and mentor

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