4-H Fix: The Original Maine 4-H Brownie
The Original Maine 4-H Brownie
By Ron Drum, Statewide 4-H Program Professional/Associate Director 4-H Resource Development
If I say “Brownie,” what comes to mind? Any of these?
- Harold “Brownie” Brown.
- The “Cloverbud” version of a Girl Scout.
- An old-time Eastman-Kodak camera.
- A very helpful British elf.
- The mascot of the Cleveland Browns, Cleveland’s Professional Football Team.
- A sweet, cake-like, chocolate dessert. By the way, according to some, the brownie was invented in Bangor, Maine. An article about brownies posted on the U.S. History Scene website included a recipe for the “Bangor Brownie,” which they reported, according to The Story Behind the Dish: Classic American Foods (pp 22-23), appeared in the Service Club of Chicago’s 1904 Cook Book, a collection of recipes contributed by Service Club of Chicago members.
Indeed, here is that recipe!
Cream one-half cup of butter, one cup sugar. Add two squares (one-quarter cake) Baker’s chocolate, melted, two eggs, one-half cup pastry flour and one-half cup chopped walnuts. Spread on baking tins and bake fifteen minutes in a moderate oven.
So, when I said “Brownie” did anyone say “Brownie Schrumpf,” the person of whom one biographer entitled her book: “If Maine had a Queen” and who I am calling the “Original Maine 4-H Brownie”? Visit the Google News archive and go to page 14 to read a Bangor Daily News article about Mildred’s life.
Mildred Greeley Brown, also known as “Brownie,” served as Maine’s fifth Assistant State 4-H Leader from 1925 – 1932.
Here is her picture. It was taken around 1936 making her about 33 years of age at the time.
Note the smile.
I bet she was a very nice person to know. I wish I could have met her.
Born January 24, 1903, in Readfield Depot, a village situated just east of Maranacook Lake in Kennebec County, Brownie seemed to be successful at everything.
Maybe that is why she smiled so much! She graduated from Winthrop High School in 1921 and then went right on to attend classes at the University of Maine. I hope her parents, Fred and Nellie Brown, were there to see her receive her bachelor’s degree in Home Economics in 1925. I’m sure they were. I’m even sure they were more than proud. After all, she was the first in her family to go to college.
Out of college and then right back onto campus for her brand new job, Assistant State Club (I like saying “4-H” instead) Leader, a job she did for the next seven years. The State 4-H Office announced her appointment in the newsletter Echoes from Clubdom (v8, #3, Sept 1925) saying:
A change in the personnel of the Club Department has just recently been announced by Dr. Leon S. Merrill, Director of Extension Work in Maine. Mrs. Arra S. Mixter, for three years Assistant State Club Leader, has resigned, her resignation taking effect October 15. Miss Mildred Greely (sic) Brown, of Readfield Depot has been appointed assistant state club leader and is already on the job attending county contests this month.
Now remember, this passage came from a newsletter issued in September 1925 and it says she’s out there already working but her predecessor won’t be leaving until October 15! Anyway, according to the article, Mixter found a new job as the Home Economics Director for a “publicity utility company in New Jersey.” I think that’s a typo — perhaps should have been “public.” Makes more sense. Anyway, we hope she enjoyed her new position no matter what kind of utility it was!
As for Miss Brown, Echoes continues:
Miss Brown is welcomed to the organization as an old friend and former club member. She is a graduate of the University of Maine in the class of 1925. She studied home economics. While in school she established an outstanding scholastic record besides taking part in various campus activities. She was a member of the Chi Omega sorority, the rifle club, president of the Home Economics Club and house president at the Practice House her last year. She is a graduate of Winthrop High school where she was prominent in dramatics and was one of the five highest honor students in studies.
See? I told you she was successful at everything! Maybe that IS why she was smiling! By the way, for more info on Chi Omega, visit the Chi Omega website. Also by the way, “Practice House” was located in the Orono campus building known as The Maples. The Maples also served for a time as the location of the State 4-H Office. A description of UMaine’s Practice House in 1920 can be found in the American Home Economics Association’s The Journal of Home Economics, Volume 12, 1920, pp310-312.
Speaking of successful, growing up, Brownie was a successful 4-H Member. She belonged to the Readfield Girls 4-H Canning Club. She was so successful, in fact, that, according to Shibles’s welcome, she twice earned the title of Kennebec County 4‑H Canning Champion, won third place at the State Contest, and third place at “the annual seed show one year.” “This background fits her admirably for her present work of teaching the boys and girls the very things she used to do when a youngster herself,” he added.
In fact, it was because of 4-H that she decided to even GO to college! Because she won the county 4-H contest she earned the opportunity to attend the State 4-H Contest, which was held each year on the UMaine Orono Campus. It was that trip that persuaded her, and her father, that she should continue her education and do so at UMaine.
I’m still thinking about that smile. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photo of Brownie in which she is not smiling! You know, smiling wasn’t a thing to do in photos back in the 1920s. But she did. Here is a photo of some of the delegates to the 1927 Maine 4-H Camp held at the Eastern States Exposition (ESE). I won’t point out which one is Brownie. I’ll just say “look for the smile.”
By the way, that large guy sitting beside her, wearing the bow tie, is State 4-H Leader Lester Shibles. Count the smiles in the photo. Correct. One.
Here she is with the 1928 Maine delegation to Camp Vail, a camp that was also held at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield (as far as I can tell, Camp Vail was not the same as Maine 4-H Camp). This is a photo I took of a photo that is part of the 4-H Exhibit in the Page Farm and Home Museum here on campus. I apologize for the glare — on the photo, not the faces. I’ll talk more about this exhibit and the museum a bit later in this post but for now just look for our smiling friend (hint: front row, forth from the left). As I said, I wished I had met her. She seems so positive and her positive attitude seems to be catchy. Note the woman to Shibles’s right. She seems to be smiling too!
Just to prove the point that Brownie was always smiling, here is a photo of Brownie and some of the delegation that attended the Maine 4-H Camp at ESE in 1929.
Did you find her? I told you that attitude was catchy! Finding her is a little harder this time since there is at least one other smile, maybe even three or four (although the one to Brownie’s left could be called a smirk — probably didn’t like having to wear that “uniform”). Brownie is again sitting to the left of Lester Shibles, and, in case you are interested, the guy sitting to the right of Shibles, according to the list included on the back of the photo, is the seemingly joyless KC Lovejoy, the Waldo County 4-H Agent who would be appointed State 4-H Leader in 1935.
In 1932, one year shy of her 30th birthday, Brownie married a fellow named William E. Schrumpf, an economist working for the University of Maine Agricultural Experiment Station, which meant one of them would have to quit their job and I guess she was “it”! Apparently, one couldn’t be a university employee and be married to a university employee at the same time back in those days.
For Brownie, it seems, life mostly revolved around food, which is a bit like mine except whereas she taught about it, how to make it, and how to safely preserve it, I just eat it. In the forward to her cookbook Memories from Brownie’s Kitchen she wrote:
I started my “cooking career” at ten years of age, using a recipe my mother learned when she was a child. Our measuring cup was a coffee cup without a handle. The food on our farm was home-grown or picked in the wild, cooked on a wood stove and served to a hungry table of seven to eleven at each meal. During summer vacations from college I cooked for a woman and her granddaughter at their summer cottage. The menus and recipes were far different from the food on the farm — a learning experience! Cooking has always been an interesting and exciting way of life. I’ve enjoyed working with youngsters decorating cookies and making pies, and love to teach cooking classes.
In the 1940s, as a member of the USDA Extension Service, she taught foods and food preservation classes part-time at the University of Maine — notably one course being on camp cookery taught to UMaine forestry students — and traveled about the state giving food-related demonstrations. On August 31, 1951, at age 48, she began her weekly food column for the Bangor Daily News called “Brownie’s Kitchen.”
“This is your column” it began because, she said, it would be a bit of the readers’ ideas and a bit of hers. Each week she’d reminisce about days gone by or offer advice for days yet to come, always followed by three to five or so recipes.
Her January 2, 1980 column (page 29) began:
The holidays are nearly over and 1980 is the beginning of a new decade. It will be a time of tailoring the food purchases to the food budget.
Not a scrap of food should be wasted. Leftover cooked meats and vegetables, with the addition of seasonings, will make a meat pie or a soup. Even hash becomes a special dish! Stew meat will stretch the meat budget, although stew meat has become a higher priced food, and less tender cuts may be marinated to soften the fibers. It is a game the homemaker will play to “make do” with the food budget money.
One of the recipes she included in this column was her Shrimp and Broccoli Casserole. She said it was “a party-like meal.” It included, besides shrimp and broccoli, a can of celery soup, sharp cheese, buttered crumbs, and a few other things. Sounds tasty!
For her December 2, 1970 column (page 20) she wrote about a visit she’d made to a high school Home Economics Class and included their recipes. This one started with a question.
Do you remember the very first meal you cooked and company came to dinner? Members of the sophomore class at Easton High School served their first meal to company in the Home Economics course and it couldn’t have tasted better! The main dish of meat-za pie was accompanied with baked Aroostook potatoes, buttered carrots, and tossed salad. A chewy bar was served for dessert. Milk, tea and coffee were also served. You may like to try their recipe for meat-za pie.
MEAT-ZA PIE, if I’m reading the recipe correctly, was a meatloaf-like base covered by a tomato and mushroom sauce with cheese spread over the top, baked in the oven. Sounds pretty good! I might have just figured out what I’m having for dinner tonight!
And for dessert, MAGIC COOKIE BARS!
This chewy bar is made with sweetened condensed milk with coconut and walnuts as ingredients. These are good bars to include in the laundry case that goes back, filled with freshly laundered clothes, to the student at college or boarding school.
Better wrap those things up good in plastic or, if you have my luck, you’ll have Magic Cookie LAUNDRY! Anyway, these sound pretty good too — corn flakes, butter, sugar, chocolate, walnuts, and coconut, all mixed together with sweetened condensed milk and baked. Not sounding too bad at all!
Anyway, let’s get back to Brownie. In addition to her newspaper column, she wrote two cookbooks, The Flavor of Maine (1976) and, as mentioned above, Memories from Brownie’s Kitchen (1989), both of which I’m sure could be found in many of your better bookstores and libraries. I found both available online. Just Google the title. I also found them both in Fogler Library here on campus! See?
Speaking of her kitchen, however, if you want to visit it, just stop by the Page Farm and Home Museum on the UMaine campus. She donated many of the items to be found in their “Brownie’s Kitchen” exhibit, a replica of a 20th Century farmhouse kitchen.
Throughout her life, Brownie promoted good food, good food practices, and good foods native to Maine and Maine-grown whenever possible. If a person had a question about how something should be cooked, or if something was safe to eat, or how to make do with the wrong ingredients, it was Brownie Schrumpf that they would call; and call her they did, her telephone ringing almost constantly! She always took the call and always tried to find an answer to their questions, probably always with a smile!
She was a Bangor State Fair judge and a judge for the national Pillsbury Bake-Off. She was the Maine Food Products Promoter for the Maine Department of Agriculture at the Eastern States Exposition throughout the ’50s and ’60s. She was the “food expert” in a TV series called “A Time to Live” during the ’70s and ’80s. I don’t know if that’s when our own Angela Martin, who sits in the office next to mine in Corbett Hall, saw her, but when I showed Angela a picture of Brownie, she said, “Oh, I used to see her on TV!”
Brownie was even the one who first promoted the idea I mentioned at the start of this post, that the chocolate brownie was invented in Bangor (which led to the untrue story that she, HERSELF, invented the brownie and gave it its name. She didn’t invent it, didn’t give it its name, didn’t get hers from it, nor did she ever claim any of that to be the case. People and their talk. Go figure.).
She may not have had the honor of inventing the brownie but she did receive honors such as UMaine’s Black Bear Award (1957); Maine Press, Radio, and TV Women’s Woman of the Year Award (1968); Orono-Old Town Kiwanis Service Recognition Award (1976); and the Maine American Association of University Women [AAUW] Achievement Citation (1989). In 1974 she was awarded the UMO General Alumni Association Award, the highest award the group bestows and in the 44 years in which they had been giving this award up to that point, she was one of only five women to receive it.
Then, in 1997, Brownie Schrumpf was inducted into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame.
Mildred Greeley Brown “Brownie” Schrumpf, who stood only 4’ 11” tall in stature but stood as a giant in the hearts of Mainers everywhere, having lived 98 years of life, a life full of service to others, passed away in Orono on March 2, 2001. Kalil Ayoob, Bangor Daily News City Editor at the time, said of Brownie, “She loved people and responded to everyone. She was a regular person.”
And to think, this all started in Kennebec County, on the shores of Maranacook Lake, as a member of the Readfield Girls 4-H Canning Club.
Did you have a favorite 4-H Recipe or food related 4-H experience? Tell us all about it and get yourself into a 4-H Fix!
On April 7 the next 4-H Fix post will tell us how we are all “Standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Were you a 4-H Member?
UMaine 4-H wants to hear your story. Please take a moment to fill out our short form and Tell Us Your Story!
University of Maine Cooperative Extension conducts the state’s most successful out-of-school youth educational program through 4-H, a positive youth development program that has been empowering young people in Maine to reach their full potential since 1913.