Best-ever baked scallops, and remembering Cecil Caine

Margaret remembers Cecil Caine, the orneriest man in the county.

It’s been a long time since we’ve heard from Margaret Coombs, but after learning of the passing of her neighbor Cecil Caine, she felt compelled to send in this special remembrance. Below this, I reprise her most excellent baked scallop recipe.

She writes:

Well, I’ve been some wicked busy helping Violet Breel reroof Milton’s barn, but with so much rain these days I had a chance to catch up and put together a short account of what I remember of Cecil Caine, who so many folks around here considered the most contrary individual they’d ever known. I must admit they’re generally right, but I was lucky that I never had a quarrel with him, mostly because I brought him at least one home-baked pie a week, and he seemed grateful, even if he didn’t say it with words.

Cecil Caine, maybe 3 years ago.

It was during one of those pie-delivery visits that Cecil showed off just how smart-alecky he could ever get. It was a few summers ago, he was outside by the road painting his fence post when I pulled in the driveway, got out, and placed the pie on his front stoop.

“What is it this time?” he called to me.

“Apple crumb.”

He nodded. “Better. The one last week, blueberry, wasn’t very good. Too wet.”

Before I could scold him with an answer that I could think of, this car pulls up and stops right where Cecil’s painting. City fellow driving, you could tell by the clothes.

“Excuse me,” says the man, “I might be lost. Can you tell me where I am?”

“I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you you’re in a car.”

This fellow wasn’t going to roll over and give in quite that fast. “I know I’m in a car. So where’s my car? – that’s what I’m asking.”

“Right on the side of the road by my front yard.”

“Well, can you tell me where this road goes?”

“Yep. Goes downhill for about a half mile. Then flattens out.”

“What town am I in?”

“Not a town, but we call it Pike’s Corner.”

The fellow looked at his road map. “It’s not on the map.”

“Bad map.”

“Look, buddy, I’m trying to get to Bar Harbor by six.”

“How’d you know my name was Buddy?”

Now the fellow’s just about had it. “Oh, c’mon pal, help me out, I’m due in Bar Harbor by six and I hate being late.”

“Sounds like a personal problem.”

Well, this is when I stepped in and went to the driver’s window and told him what roads to take to get to Bar Harbor, about two hours away. It wasn’t yet three in the afternoon, so unless he encountered another man as mean-spirited as Cecil he should make it with time to spare.

So Cecil’s gone now. He wanted no funeral service, but a few of us did show up for his burial – just ashes in a box – and the preacher said a few conciliatory words that no one really believed. So that’s the best I can do for you in remembering Cecil Caine.


Best-ever baked scallops

Margaret sent this in a couple of years ago. It’s too good not to repeat…

You’ll need:

  • 2 1/2 lbs. scallops (remember: it rhymes with dollops)
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice or a lemon slice
  • 2 tbsp. chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp. chopped onion
  • about 7 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced (optional)
  • 4 tbsp. flour
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/3 cup dry sherry
  • 1/2 cup buttered panko bread crumbs
  • about 1/3 cup grated sharp cheddar

Now do these things:

  • Preheat your oven to 375, and have ready a casserole that’s well buttered inside.
  • First, slice the larger scallops in half, then rinse them all in cold water and put aside.  Now put about a tbsp. of butter in a pan, melt it, stir in the bread crumbs and stir till well toasted. Put those aside, too. Now, in a large skillet, put in all the scallops, the lemon juice or slice, and the parsley, cover with cold water, then bring to a boil and cook for 1 1/2 minutes. (This way the scallops heat up slowly and don’t toughen much). Pour the water from the pan into a bowl – it’ll be used again in the sauce.
  • Now melt some butter in the same pan and cook the onions, and mushrooms if you want. The mushrooms make this dish very rich, so sometimes I omit them. But if you’re cooking both onions and mushrooms, use about 4 tbsp. of butter. If just onions, 1 tbsp. should do it. When done, put these aside.
  • Now make the sauce with 4 tbsp. butter and 4 tbsp. flour. Melt the butter, whisk in the flour, stir still smooth, and now slowly add the cooking broth from the scallops, stirring all the time. You don’t have to put in all the broth, just enough to get a nice thick roux that’s not too soupy. Also add dashes of Worcestershire and some salt and pepper if you want. When it’s creamy smooth, add the scallops, onions (and mushrooms) and the dry sherry and stir till blended with the burner off.
  • Pour all this into the casserole, sprinkle with the bread crumbs and the grated cheddar, and bake uncovered about 15-18 minutes till it’s hot and bubbly. It’s pretty simple but very tasty.

Serve this over rice, preferably brown or wild. But you can use white or Basmati, either way. It’s quite delicious and if there’s any left over it’ll keep for awhile, so don’t worry. And as I always say, buy local, know your fishmonger or at least the store where he (or she) sells his product.

There you have it.


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Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.