In the extraordinary wealth of detail writer Cathie Pelletier gathered for her newest book, “Northeaster,” one detail stood out to me: Hazel Tardiff’s blueberry cake.

In the book, Pelletier follows a group of ordinary real-life Mainers – two lobstermen, a teenage boy, a heavily pregnant housewife, a young navy recruit and others – as they cope with a real-life blizzard that struck Maine in 1952.

Hazel Tardiff, age 2, with a cup of wild blueberries. “Even as a toddler, Hazel would help her older sister pick blueberries in the fields on Isla au Haut,” Cathie Pelletier wrote in “Northeaster: A Story of Courage and Survival in the Blizzard of 1952.” Photo courtesy of Cathie Pelletier

Pelletier mentioned the cake at her book launch at Mechanics’ Hall in Portland in February as a way to explain how thoroughly she wanted to understand the people she was writing about, researching every last detail, including what they cooked and ate. As the storm begins, Hazel is nine months pregnant, and she needs to get to the hospital, but the storm has rendered the roads from her home in Bath impassible.

In Pelletier’s retelling, on the eve of the storm, Hazel is remembering her childhood in Isle au Haut while “(s)he was alone in the kitchen making a cake … The cake Hazel was making was blueberry with a nutmeg sauce, her mother’s recipe. Because Phil (her husband) and the children loved it, it was a goodbye present to enjoy during the time she would be away” having her baby.

The cake makes a second appearance in the narrative when Hazel’s doctor arrives, by snowshoe and sleigh, to convey her patient to the hospital over 10-foot high drifts of snow. At other points in the book, Pelletier mentions Hazel’s homemade pickle relish, biscuits and beans.

Pelletier, writing in the genre of narrative nonfiction, probably took a bit of poetic license, according to Mary Tardiff Wirta, daughter of the late Hazel Tardiff and supplier of the recipe. “I think there would have been too much going on for her to be able to manage baking,” Wirta emailed.


But Wirta said the family enjoyed this cake often when she was growing up, and in turn, she baked it often for her own children when they were small.

Wirta, who grew up in Bath and now lives in Connecticut, is listed first on the book’s dedication page, among those who “answered hundreds of questions with willingness and patience, and supplied necessary documents.” Those “necessary documents” included, we’re happy to report, a favorite family recipe.

Hazel Tardiff’s Blueberry Cake Recipe with Nutmeg Sauce

“My mother would be very happy to hear this may be published in the newspaper,” Mary Tardiff Wirta emailed about her family recipe dating back many decades, which, with the changes outlined in the next paragraph, produces a moist, old-fashioned blueberry cake.

Wirta suggested using butter in place of the shortening in the cake. Food Editor Peggy Grodinsky followed that advice when she tested the recipe and also made a few other changes, adding 1 extra egg (the recipe is quite frugal), 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and, most importantly, following her instincts to double the amount of fat (butter) to ½ cup.

We’ve printed the recipe here just as we received it. Know that “Soda” refers to baking soda, that you’ll want to grease your baking pan before filling it with batter, and that you can use buttermilk in place of the sour milk.



1 C Sugar
2/3 C Sour Milk
1/4 C Shortening
1/2 tsp Soda
1/4 tsp Salt
2 C Flour
1 Egg
1 C Blueberries

Cream sugar and shortening. Add egg and beat. Add flour, salt and soda alternately with sour milk. Stir in blueberries.

Bake 350 (degrees), 35 minutes or so in 8″ square pan.


2/3 C Sugar
2 Tbsp Flour
1/8 tsp Salt
1 C Boiling Water
1 Tbsp Butter
1/2 Tsp Nutmeg

Mix sugar, flour and salt in saucepan, add boiling water and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, add butter and nutmeg. Serve over baked cake.

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