Charismatic bakers, the Brass sisters, delight Massachusetts’ residents


Marilynn Brass (left) and Sheila Brass

By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer

Massachusetts has always been home to Marilynn (74) and Sheila (78) Brass, accomplished bakers, cookbook authors, and raconteurs. This dynamic duo, who grew up in Winthrop and now live together in Cambridge, have launched a international book tour for their most recent, and third cookbook, “Baking with the Brass Sisters.”

The sisters began writing cookbooks and making television appearances when Marilynn was 60, and Sheila was 65. They learned to cook and bake as children at the hem of their mother, Dorothy, in a triple-decker on Sea Foam Avenue in Winthrop.

All these years later, they still have a deep appreciation for tradition, home cooked meals, and perhaps most importantly, storytelling — behind each recipe there is a story.

They have displayed their big personalities on PBS, the Cooking Channel, NPR’s All Things Considered, and recently on the QVC Network on “In the Kitchen with David.”

They won a “Throwdown with Bobby Flay,” (Food Network) with their heirloom recipe for Pineapple Upside-Down Cake.

According to Marilynn, the sisters are working with a producer on a proposal for a television show.

The Brass Sisters, who never married, have not always made a living as cookbook authors, but baking has always been an important part of their lives. According to their website, at one point the dynamic duo had a sideline as antique dealers, and were sought out for their vintage kitchen equipment.

Sheila worked as a clothing designer, and an executive assistant. Marilynn was an author, and publicist for the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory. Both sisters worked at WGBH: Sheila as a manager in the Department of National Programming, and Marilynn on shows including “This Old House,” “New Yankee Workshop,” and “The Victory Garden.”

Their cookbooks are based on manuscript cookbooks and handwritten recipes by home cooks who came to America from all over world. The sisters currently have 6,500 cookbooks and more than 200 handwritten manuscript cookbooks.

Their first cookbook, “Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters: More than 100 Years of Recipes Discovered and Collected by the Queens of Comfort Food,” released in 2006, was a 2007 finalist for the James Beard Award in the baking/dessert category. They have been honored to speak about their books at Beard House in New York City, home of the James Beard Foundation.

“Heirloom Cooking with the Brass Sisters: Recipes You Remember and Love,” was published in 2008.

“We consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to continue to reach so many home bakers with our new cookbook … [it] enables us to meet with other home bakers to discuss the wonderful recipes and memories of our childhood, and theirs,” Sheila said, regarding their most recent book. “We hope the people who read our new baking book come to think of us as ‘two old friends in the kitchen.’”

The Brass Sisters book tour has included stops in Massachusetts, with more planned. Witnessing the Brass sister’s speak about baking is akin to attending a comedy show.

They finish each other’s sentences while regaling food-related stories of their childhood.

On Oct. 29, they spoke to a crowd of 125 at Congregation B’nai Shalom in Westborough. Along with hoots of laughter and baking insights, the guests enjoyed a “mega tasting” of 30 recipes from “Baking with the Brass Sisters” that were made by home bakers among the group.

Several Massachusetts locations will be the site of future talks, including the New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton Highlands.

For details in the Brass Sisters event schedule, visit their Facebook page at “Marilynn Brass.” And, of course, the sisters ask you to like it.

The cover of the sisters’ book, “Baking with the Brass Sisters”
The cover of the sisters’ book, “Baking with the Brass Sisters”