Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Mary and Alice Puffer Papers, 1830-1940

Finding aid created by
Rachel K. Onuf, June 1996

Summary Information
Title: Mary and Alice Puffer papers
Creator: Puffer, Mary, b. 1872 and Puffer, Alice, 1884-1979
Inclusive dates: 1830-1940
Extent: 16 items
Abstract:
The Puffer papers consist of items relating to the family history and tea room operated by the Puffer sisters in Nobleboro, Maine; much of the material is undated.

Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1996. M-3253.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Mary and Alice Puffer papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Biography

Mary and Alice Puffer lived in Brookline, Mass. For several years, their father worked in New York City and typically came home on weekends. During this time, he twice rented the Methodist Parsonage in Oceanic, N.J., as a summer home for his family. After that, the family summered in Maine with their grandparents, who owned a farm in Nobleboro.

Mary Sophia, Alice and another sister, Gertrude (1881-1970), opened up a roadside tearoom along old Route 1 in Nobleboro, Maine, based on the premise that "if each family here should make its own specialty and offer it for sale in our little community, we could all combine to create a successful food business." The "Nobleboro Community Kitchen" operated with great success for three seasons, open between July 1 and Labor Day. The Puffers were assisted by neighbors, who contributed food and raw materials, including milk, chickens, and vegetables. Initially serving in the open air, the sisters soon began to set up tables indoors to meet the demand. The Community Kitchen was so popular that some Sundays they served a hundred dinners between noon and two.

Each season the sisters had to rent and fix up a different house along Route 1. Their second landlord refused to have them back and tried to open a rival tearoom, but "he underestimated the value of artistic appearance and failed to provide the awnings, umbrellas and painted furniture whuch had made his house attractive the year before." That last season, the Puffers had to make do with a house without electricity or running water. They were forced to cook by the light of oil lamps and since the well water did not pass the rigorous state inspection, they had to bring drinking water daily from the next town.

The kitchen was closed when the rerouting of Route. 1 put them on a back road, and "depressions and war followed to discouarge any revival of our experiment." Two of the sisters were school teachers during the rest of the year, though their subsequent history is unknown.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The Puffer papers consist of items relating to the family history and tea room operated by the Puffer sisters in Nobleboro, Maine; much of the material is undated.

The most significant item in this collection is a typescript manuscript in two parts, "Recollections and Recipes," written by Mary Sophia Puffer, and "Nobleboro Community Kitchen", written by her sister, Alice. In addition, there are seven unique copies of Community Kitchen menus and several seemingly unrelated land deeds.

The first part of the typescript is aptly described by the author: "Around the seasons and through the years with a suburban Boston family, from Massachusetts to Maine and New Jersey, with happy memories and good eating made possible by old Yankee recipes handed down from generation to generation, culminating in the successful operation of a popular tea-room." This account of family travels and customs is interspersed with over sixty recipes. A tremendous appreciation for food fuels this reminiscence, which seems to have been written much later in life.

Alice Puffer goes on to describe the "birth and death of a tea room in the pre-war days of plenty" and provides some more recipes, including ones for lemon meringue pie, "the best seller and reputation maker... no ordinary haphazard confection," and the original recipe for Parker House rolls. The roll recipe was obtained by the Puffer's father directly from the chef at the Parker House, but the sisters found ways to improve it.

Two Community Kitchen menus are for afternoon tea and have watercolor paintings on the front. There are also five black menu cards painted by a "gifted art student" and four handwritten menus to accompany them. Lobsters are naturally featured ("We boil our own lobsters and Maine deep-sea lobsters have a flavor all their own"), as well as berry pies, "lemon pie, with a wonderful meringue", "rich creamy milk from a herd of registered cows" and "community pickles."

The six deeds are all for properties in the Nobleboro area and date from 1830 to 1912. They seem to be unrelated to the Community Kitchen materials, even though one deed, dated 1911, is from Robert W. and wife Blanche Puffer to O. C. Nutting. There is also a sketch of property lines done by Frank Bulfinch for Charles M. Hall in 1907.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • Businesswomen--United States.
    • Cookery (Lobsters)
    • Cookery, American--New England style
    • Cookery.
    • Cooks.
    • Deeds.
    • Family.
    • Maine.
    • Massachusetts.
    • Menus.
    • Nobleboro (Me.)
    • Restaurants--Maine.
    • Vacations.
    • Women cooks--United States.
    Genre Terms:
    • Deeds.
    • Menus.
    • Typescripts.
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
    Box   1  
    Mary and Alice Puffer papers,  1830-1940 [series]: