Cambridge Royalty: The Queens of Comfort Food

The Turkish people claim to have a hundred ways of preparing eggplants. For them, it is the king and queen of vegetables.
                                                                       – Claudia Roden, Arabesque

One of the pleasures of a blog like this is the opportunity to meet local culinary stars. The Brass Sisters – new to me but known to many on the local food scene – embody the phrase The Joy of Cooking. Their charm, lack of pretense, and desire to connect and share with fellow food enthusiasts harken back to an era before celebrity chefs ruled the roost.

Meet the Brass sisters: Marilyn (left) and Sheila. They’ve spent decades collecting and testing recipes found at yard sales.

Not that the sisters shun publicity. They were on hand at Tags’ annual kitchen/home event Sunday to promote the paperback edition of their cookbook, Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters. The Winthrop natives (you’d never know it from their accents) have the requisite Web site, and they’ve hosted their own cooking specials: The Brass Sisters Holiday on the Cooking Channel and The Brass Sisters: Queens of the Comfort Food on WGBH.


But wait…. there’s more: Their book was a finalist for the James Beard Foundation Award. They trumped Bobby Flay on the Food Network’s Throwdown with Bobby Flay, where they baked 18 pineapple upside-down cakes. And they publish a blog, Comfort Food & Joy, which features occasional musings on taking tea, mystery novels, Irish Bread, and the long-gone Jewish-style Midget Restaurant near Porter Square, not far from where the pair now reside.

One senses the sisters would be equally at ease with an audience of five or 5,000, ’cause they’ve got personality, as Lloyd Price famously sang. If they don’t win you over with Mrs. Carl Winchenback’s Banana Cream Pie (“The best one we’ve ever tasted,” Marilyn insists), they’ll disarm you with tales of collecting and curating hundreds of family recipes.

Those recipes – passed down with care through generations of French, Irish, Jews, Swedes, Italians – were assembled over the 30 years that the sisters have spent combing yard sales; the best of them deciphered and tested for inclusion in their two cookbooks.

We hope to feature a sampling from their incredible collection of culinary collectables [which boasts 2,000 food molds among other pieces] in an upcoming post, along with their shopping advice. Meanwhile, my advice is to pick up an autographed copy of their book from Porter Square Books, and sample their joyous approach to cooking and entertaining in a short promo for their TV special here:

Links to their books, blog and recipes can be found at:

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