CHOWDER RULES!: THE TRUE STORY OF AN EPIC FOOD FIGHT, by Anna Crowley Redding; Islandport Press, 2020; 32 pages, $17.95.

CHOWDER RULES!: THE TRUE STORY OF AN EPIC FOOD FIGHT

In all the Maine trivia books nobody mentions Maine politician Cleveland Sleeper, Jr. Why not? After all, he was a true hero, saving iconic New England clam chowder from the tomato. This obscure state legislator pulled off a culinary publicity stunt in 1939 that saved Maine’s well-deserved chowder reputation.

“Chowder Rules!” is a children’s book for ages 4-8, but it should be required reading for all adult Mainers who love clam chowder. Author Anna Crowley Redding is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who tells this story with humor, insight and a bit of whimsy.

Cleveland Sleeper (1905-1976) was a Rockland politician who cherished the “steamy, creamy, dreamy” flavors of traditional New England clam chowder: clams, potatoes and salt pork in a milky broth. He was outraged to learn that New Yorkers actually put tomatoes in their clam chowder. Determined to protect New England clam chowder from such “a crime against cookery,” he proposed a state law prohibiting tomatoes from being added to clam chowder.

Redding and illustrator Vita Lane tell this story with clear narrative and colorful, funny illustrations revealing remarkable and little-known Maine history. Instead of legislation, Sleeper is challenged to a chowder cook-off by a Philadelphia restaurateur, to determine which clam chowder is best, to settle the tomato controversy.

National attention, press coverage and a live radio broadcast of the cook-off in a Portland hotel, witnessed five judges (including the Maine governor and Ruth Wakefield, the inventor of the chocolate chip cookie) sip, slurp and swish samples of the two chowders. The crowd anxiously waited for the judges’ decision. And the result? You’ll never see a tomato is a bowl of New England clam chowder.

This is great educational fun, and includes a pretty tasty New England clam chowder recipe (tomatoes not allowed).

 

JANE DARROWFIELD AND THE MADWOMAN NEXT DOOR by Barbara Ross; Kensington Books, 2020; 280 pages, $8.99.

JANE DARROWFIELD AND THE MADWOMAN NEXT DOOR

Jane Darrowfield really is a professional busybody. She actually gets paid to stick her nose into other people’s business. Not a bad gig for a retired widow with time on her hands. And she’s pretty good at it, too.

This is the second book in Portland author Barbara Ross’s new mystery series featuring Jane. Ross also writes the popular Maine Clambake Mystery series, and collaborates on Christmas- and Halloween-themed mysteries.

The first story in this series was a hilarious, wacky cozy mystery set in a retirement community. This one is much more sinister — a dark, suspenseful, intricate plot set right next door to Jane’s home. Pay attention because this is a really creepy mystery.

Jane’s new next-door neighbor is Megan Larsen, a single, female lawyer. When Megan asks for Jane’s help, she has an unusual request: Megan wants Jane to prove she’s not crazy. Now Jane is not a detective or a doctor, but Megan’s odd request fascinates her and she agrees to help.

After hearing Megan’s symptoms, Jane thinks Megan may be suffering from a mental illness or possibly the environmental effects of a “sick house” contaminated with mold. As she looks into both possibilities, Megan suddenly disappears without a trace. The police are concerned but Megan’s father, an arrogant Boston attorney, is dismissive, calling his daughter’s disappearance nothing but a prank.

Then Jane discovers someone has manipulated Megan’s elaborate home security system in a frightening manner known as “gaslighting.” The police and Jane can’t figure out a motive, but there are plenty of weird suspects: the ex-boyfriend, the rival lawyer, her lying father, a slimy online date, a corrupt developer and the strange security-alarm company. And what about all those vacant, furnished homes owned by rich absent foreigners? Are there connections?

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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