Yesterday, my husband, Clif, and I rode our bikes to the Winthrop Congregational Church for their monthly fish chowder luncheon. The church is about a mile from where we live, and if it weren’t for the long, low, cunning hill that starts at our house and goes to the end of the road, then the ride would be an easy one. Still, as I have told my friend Claire, I must come to terms with this hill, even though it leaves me panting and gulping by the time I get to the top. By the end of the biking season, I hope to be able to manage the hill with a little more finesse. Once over the hill, it is pretty much downhill all the way to the church, and the main challenge is the ride through town, where the rider must always be vigilant for cars backing out of parking spaces. But Clif and I made it to the church in one piece, found a lamppost where we could lock our bikes, and headed downstairs for chowder.
Built in 1861, the Winthrop Congregational Church is one of those old, white wooden churches—complete with steeple—for which New England is so famous. Although I was raised as a Catholic and am more familiar with stone churches, I must admit I have a soft spot for spare, white churches. On the street where I grew up in North Vassalboro, Maine, there was one of these simple churches, and when I walked past it, I remember admiring the beauty of the outline of the steeple against the bright blue sky. Somehow, even as a young child, this sight always lifted my spirits.
According to the Winthrop Congregational Church’s website, its current building started out as a vestry “and was for many years used for the Sunday evening and mid-week services of the Church, as well as for its social events. In 1904 this vestry was raised and fitted with stained glass memorial windows.” Under the vestry went a meeting room and a kitchen, where the fish chowder luncheons are held today, and small stained-glass windows do indeed cast a lovely glow over the room. One more interesting fact about the church. In 1945, the interior of the church was remodeled by a man named Harry Cochrane, who in these parts is something of an architectural wunderkind. I know I’m digressing, but to get a sense of what Harry Cochrane was capable of at his finest, take a look at Cumston Hall in Monmouth, Maine (population 3,785), right down the road from Winthrop.
But back to the fish chowder luncheon. For $6.50 each, Clif and I got a piece of pie, water or punch, coffee or tea, homemade biscuits, crackers, pickles, and, of course, fish chowder, made that day by some of the men in the congregation. The fish chowder was everything a fish chowder should be, chockfull with potatoes and fish with the right amount of milk and flavored with just enough onions so that the flavors were enhanced rather than overwhelmed. (There are few sadder things in life than a chowder crammed with so much onion that the delicate flavors of fish and milk are destroyed.) Those men at the church sure know how to make fish chowder. The biscuits, too, were very good, light and moist. If there is a better deal for lunch anywhere in the area, then I don’t know where this place might be. The fish chowder luncheons are served from September through June on the second Friday of the month from 11:30 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. If you are in the area, do not hesitate to stop at the church for lunch.
While we were eating, family style at long tables, we struck up a conversation with a woman who was sitting next to us. From her we learned that on Saturday, May 15, there would be an “All Pie Public Supper at the Readfield United Methodist Church from 5:00 to 6:30.” The cost? Seven dollars. An all pie supper? That’s almost better than fish chowder. When it comes to pie, I am not at all picky. I like almost every kind, and I even think there are some acceptable commercial frozen pies available. When I asked the woman what kind of pies would be served at the All Pie Public Supper, she answered, “Shepherds’ pie, chicken pie, quiche, berry pies, chocolate pies, and even whoopie pies.” She told us to come early for the best selection. Clif and I will be there.