Posts tagged Maine
Posts tagged Maine
Maine is beautiful in the summer. I am certainly not going to argue with that. But really, fall is my favorite season here. The nights are cool, you can break out warmer sweaters without having to bundle up in winter boots and coats and hats and gloves every time you leave the house, the trees turn beautiful colors, and it’s apple season.
I can’t wait.
I signed up for the Out on a Limb apple CSA again this year, so I’m looking forward to a wide variety of unusual apples. For those of you further afield, or not excited about quite so many apples, New England farmer’s markets are full of apples come fall.* And apple picking is probably the most wonderful of all pick-your-own experiences, what with the shade, cooler weather, ease of picking, and mulled cider and/or cider donuts (always and, never or).
We got our first Out on a Limb newsletter today, in advance of our first pickup tomorrow. I find the newsletter fascinating, although I now accept that some people do not (“Don’t eat those first! They save well. Didn’t you read the newsletter?” “No.” “It’s half the fun of the CSA!” “…”). In any case, this newsletter had a whole section on some of the common blemishes that you might find on non-grocery-store apples that I thought would be of wider interest to people buying local apples:
What are those spots on my apples?!
The apples you receive from OOAL CSA will probably never be as “perfect” as the ones you can buy in the grocery store. (Of course, we think that they are all perfect in their own way.) So, what are those various spots and blemishes that you’ll see from time to time on the fruit? Do they taste bad? Are they bad for you or your family?
Round blackish spots about the size of a small thumb tack are probably “scab”. Scab is the most common fungal defect found on apples in Maine. In extreme cases, it can completely cover the fruit, making it inedible, and it can even defoliate a tree. The most susceptible variety to scab is McIntosh. Most of the heirlooms and other varieties we provide are resistant to scab. While you may find a small scab spot here and there, it won’t negatively affect the fruit.
Sometimes you might see a light tan bump on the skin. Usually these are bug bites that have healed over. Cut them out if you like, but they rarely damage the fruit or cause any off-taste.
Tiny black dots in clusters of a dozen or so are called “fly speck”. They usually show up in conjunction with a smoky film called “sooty blotch”. Both are fungal defects. Neither is harmful in any way, nor do they have any taste.
None of these dings or spots or blemishes is bad for you or your family. Feel free to cut them out – or leave them!
I can confirm from experience that sooty blotch and fly speck are not noticeable when you’re eating apples. They also offer the unique pleasure of being able to use the phrase “sooty blotch” in conversation.
* It’s actually not been a great year for apples, unfortunately, but I’d still be really surprised if you didn’t see apples at farmer’s markets.
It is not often that I get to write these words, but: EXCITING NEWS FOR CHEESE IN MAINE!
Cheeses-in-progress at Spring Day Creamery: the little squares (truncated pyramids) on the left will become Evangeline, an ashed, ripened cow’s milk cheese.
Spring Day Creamery just won a first place ribbon (Best Original Recipe Cow’s Milk) for their La Vie en Rose cheese at the 2012 American Cheese Society awards. That’s the second award Sarah Spring’s creamery has won in as many years, and it is a really big deal. It actually makes me incredibly happy for two reasons:
1. Sarah Spring’s cheeses are wonderful, and the fact that she is making those cheeses on her own out of a small space she converted from a garage at her house in Durham is pretty awe-inspiring.
2. My post on Spring Day Creamery no longer seems embarrassingly belated but rather quite timely.
I got in touch with a friend of mine who is a fancy-pants cheese buyer to get a sense of the scale of the competition. This is what she said:
This is an open category that she won this year, so you can submit any style. This is for her washed rind. This is exactly like the cheese Oscars or Olympics (i say it’s more like the Olympics because they place 1st, 2nd and 3rd) for cheesegeeks. She may compete against over 100 cheese makers, depending on how many submit for that category. The awards are also held every summer, on alternating coasts. Next year it’s in Wisconsin.
Last year, Spring Day Creamery’s Spring Day Blues won second place in the “Blue-veined made from cow’s milk with a rind or external coating” category, right after Rogue Creamery’s Rogue River Blue (which has won Best in Show a few times). Winning second place to Rogue River Blue’s first place is not unlike winning silver in synchronized diving.*
So that’s all great, you know, yay Maine cheeses. The part that kind of blows my mind, though, is that Spring Day Creamery is a one-woman shop run by Sarah Spring, a retired middle school teacher who first started making cheese in 2005 in her kitchen after 40 years of making her own yogurt. Her new (state-licensed) cheese room was completed in 2008 and I would guess is maybe 100 square feet. For comparison, Rogue Creamery lists 40 staff members on their website as part of their team. Beecher’s Handmade Cheese in Seattle, the winners of this year’s Best in Show, started out with a kitchen approximately 1,000 sq. feet in size. Plymouth Cheese Company in Vermont, the second-place winner in Sarah’s category, is one of the oldest cheese operations in the country. I don’t say this because these other cheesemakers are Big Industrial Cheese Operations, they’re definitely not, it’s just to give you a sense of how unexpected a win like this is for a creamery of this size and scale.
Where the magic happens at Spring Day Creamery
About a month ago, Sharon from Delicious Musings and I drove out to the Spring’s farmhouse in Durham, ME (not far from Freeport) to see the operation in person. The space is tiny but spotless, with every square inch taken up by some bit of equipment or another, many improvised. (Read Sharon’s post about the trip here.) Sarah herself is incredibly charming and spent a ton of time explaining how things work, sampling cheeses, and answering our questions.
Sarah makes both cow and goat milk cheeses, pasteurized and non-pasteurized, and gets her milk from a few different nearby Maine dairies. She produces mostly traditional French cheeses, with some forays and experiments. What struck me the most about her, and I think part of why I enjoyed our visit so much, was her palpable passion and enthusiasm and curiosity for the craft. You don’t make these cheeses accidentally: they are fussy and demanding and particular. They each have their own requirements in terms of brushing, or ashing, or turning, or piercing, or aging (for which they have to be separated, the blues in particular do not play well with others, and are relegated to fridges in their own little room). Tiny changes in the process create pretty dramatically different cheeses.
And as I’ve said, the cheeses themselves are spectacular. One of my personal favorites was Basket Case, a somewhat soft stinky washed rind cheese with a slight bitter edge named in honor of her former middle school students.
They are also super cheap, and you should go find them and buy them before Sarah realizes that she could be charging easily twice as much as she is for them.** She can be found at the Falmouth farmer’s market on Wednesdays and the Brunswick farmer’s market on Saturdays, and also sells to a handful of shops. You can find the full list on the Spring Day Creamery website here.
The large cheese in the bottom left is La Vie en Rose, the one just above it is Evangeline. The blue that’s being sliced is Spring Day Blues. Basket Case is the one with the yellow-y rind tucked just to the left of Spring Day Blues. There’s also a cracked pepper cheese next to Basket Case, which was Dave’s favorite of the cheeses I brought home.
* Which is obviously the best Olympic sport in the world.
** And when she does double her prices, you should still buy her cheese, because it would still be a good value.
[I’m sorry to pick on these illustrations. They are certainly not the only, or even the most egregious example of the kinds of seasonal produce charts I’ve been seeing lately.]
I keep seeing these posters and diagrams of what’s in season when, and they’re often lovely and attractively designed, but basically flawed. I can tell you when strawberries are generally ripe in Maine (except this year when the whole season was about a month early), but that has little to no bearing on when they’re ripe in Florida, or California, or Indiana. And that’s just the contiguous United States. This is a really big country with lots of climate zones.
I have a number of cookbooks that are organized by season. For the most part, given where I live, they’re all off by a month or two: I’m cooking from the spring section in early summer.
There is a reason we can get raspberries in February: they are actually in season somewhere in the world at that time.
Old Pine Tree compiled everything you need to know about lobsters (more or less). Namely: they are super cheap right now, and they are good for you, and it’s time to get over your weirdness about dumping them in a pot of boiling water, particularly if you’re someone who eats things like pork.
The 4th of July has come and gone so we’re officially knee deep in summer. Here in Maine that means we’re well into lobster season.
The Lobster Institute, which is part of the University of Maine, has some interesting information on their website:
- Lobster has less calories, less total fat and less cholesterol (based on 100 grams of cooked product) than lean beef; whole poached eggs; and even roasted, skinless chicken breast. Lobster is also high in amino acids; potassium and magnesium; Vitamins A, B12, B6, B3 (niacin) and B2 (riboflavin); calcium and phosphorus; iron; and zinc.
- While cooking, leaving rubber bands on is optional
- The nervous system of a lobster is very simple – lobsters don’t have brains. For an organism to perceive pain it must have a more complex nervous system. Neurophysiologists tell us that lobsters do not process pain.
- The white goopy stuff you find in lobsters after they have been cooked is called the hemolymph, often referred to as the blood of the lobster.
- The green stuff inside a lobster after it has been cooked is the tomalley, or tamali, which functions like the liver, pancreas and intestines in the lobster. Consumers are advised not to eat the tomalley. Finding the dioxins in the lobster tomalley is regrettable, and certainly a sign of the times in which we live.
According to a recent article in the Portland Press Herald, it is a good year and season for lobster consumption:
Lobsters are going for about $2.25 to $2.50 a pound at the dock, which is “as low as I’ve seen it in 30 years,” said David Cousens, the president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.
It’s the same in stores, where prices were running $4.99 a pound at the Fishermen’s Net on Forest Avenue in Portland. “It’s the lowest price I’ve ever seen in 30 years,” said Norman Solack, a partner in the store.
I recently got 1.5lb lobsters at Free Range Fish & Lobster on Commercial Ave for $4.89/lb. There is one other spot I want to try that had them for $3.99 a pound.
I finally had a lobster roll made with butter instead of mayonnaise and it rocked my world. Support your local economy and enjoy this delicacy while it’s ripe for the picking.
It’s hard to describe how idyllic Winter Hill Farm appeared last Saturday when I visited.* There were gentle hills, brilliantly green pastures, adorable small children with chubby limbs, even the pig rolling in mud looked like the kind of thing you’d see in a storybook. There was an old cooler emblazoned with a Coca-Cola logo in the barn to hold milk and yogurt for pick-up. I was affectionately nuzzled by a cow.
I was there as part of a farm tour organized by Sharon at Delicious Musings to visit some of local Maine farms and get to know the farmers. Saturday’s tour included a visit to Winter Hill, largely a dairy farm, and Spring Day Creamery, just up the road from Winter Hill. I am so grateful to Sharon for setting up the visits, and overwhelmed by the generosity of the Steve and Sarah at Winter Hill and Sarah from Spring Day for spending so much of their Saturday talking with us about their work.
Winter Hill produces raw milk, yogurt, and cheeses from their herd of (incredibly friendly!) Randall cows. Sarah and Steve took over the farm last year from Jim Stampone and Kate LeRoyer, the couple that originally built the dairy and creamery. The herd itself is kind of interesting: Randalls are a rare heritage breed descended from indigenous landrace cattle common in New England in the nineteenth century (according to the Official Website of Randall Cattle— do click over if you’re interested in an extensive discussion of the confusion that arose from having “lineback” in the original name). Randall cows are well-suited to the climate here and multi-purpose (good for milk and meat and draft) in addition to being very friendly.
Since taking over the operation, Sarah and Steve have expanded their products to include eggs, a small vegetable CSA, and occasional pork and veal. You may have encountered their meat or dairy products at Rosemont Markets, it was only when I saw their labeled bottles in the cooler that I realized I had bought their milk at Rosemont earlier this year.
I came away from the visit struck, again, by the sheer amount of work that goes into operating a small, organic farm.** There are all the challenges that you imagine with farming: the sheer logistics of pasture rotation (ensuring that fly larvae don’t hatch while the cows are grazing nearby), managing weeds, coping with torrential rains or no rains at all, making sure the animals are healthy, making sure the soil is healthy, wrangling cows that manage to get themselves out of their fences, the hand-holding that cheese-making involves, that whole producing-the-food deal. And then there are things like Facebook pages and marketing and websites, staffing farmer’s markets, explaining to local bloggers the differences between raising cattle in Maine and California. To do it well, I think, requires an impressive combination of passion, seriousness, patience, and very hard work. I am thankful, once again, for my job, for paid time off, and for good farmers.
You can find more information about Winter Hill Farm at http://www.winterhillfarm.com/
Their dairy products are available at:
* And unfortunately I took a bunch of pictures before the sun came out, so it’s not really as lovely in the photos either.
** They are not certified organic, but their farming practices certainly fall within what I would understand as organic.
There are two periods in my life that I think of as critical to my learning to cook. The first was when I was studying abroad in London. I think I have told you about this before, and if not, I’m sure you can just wait a week and I’ll tell you again as if it’s brand-new information.*
The second period in my learning-to-cook-dinner process came when I moved with Dave to Montreal after graduation. Only having a six month work visa and speaking no French, I was basically unemployable. I eventually managed to scrounge some jobs together, but I was still under-employed, so I started cooking to take up the time and feel productive and not crazy.
In London I cooked because I didn’t have money to eat out and because I was falling in love. In Montreal, I cooked to feel productive, and cooking became my ticket to the city— the thing that brought me to new markets, that took me to the bakeries and cheese shops.
This dish I first made when my boss at the English-language theater hosted a pot-luck at his house. I wanted to make something that could travel easily, wouldn’t need to stay piping hot (since it was winter in Montreal**), and fit my limited skill set. It also included a day-filling trip to the fish market at Jean Talon.
I made it again a few weeks ago, and instead of the big fat shrimp that I bought in Montreal, I used fresh Maine shrimp. Maine shrimp are teeny tiny and so bright pink it seems like they must be dyed. They cook up in the time it takes for you to turn your head away from the skillet and back.
Otherwise, sauteeing the fennel mellows the flavor dramatically and even though I generally don’t particularly like sundried tomatoes, they’re nice here.
In fact, the whole dish was really nice— I’m not sure why I don’t make it more often.
from Bon Appetit, November 2004
* The difference between me and someone’s grandmother who constantly tells the same stories over and over is probably just a matter of years, not behavior.
** Winter in Montreal makes winter in Maine seem like puppies and daffodils.
In this round of o-rama posts, Portland, ME-area bloggers are writing about a dish they made using a Maine-made beverage.
Photo courtesy of Kennebec Cider
Only the most egregiously particular people think of themselves as picky. I have eaten with people who say that they would be happy to eat anywhere! Really! But when push comes to shove, they don’t want to eat red meat, or things that are cute, and maybe chicken is okay, but they don’t like cucumbers, and fish might be okay, but no bones and nothing raw or undercooked and the soup sounds nice except is it spicy? It’s not just food. Someone will promise you that they give need a minute to get ready, but after a certain number of minutes, you will inevitably reach an hour.
What I’m saying is that this is a really simple, straightforward recipe that works nicely as a weeknight dinner and also that I made it with three different local ciders in an effort to find one that worked well in the dish (plus the French cider that I originally used).
Cooking with cider is relatively easy, in theory. It’s sort of similar to cooking with white wine or vermouth. I like dry hard cider, which is easy to find in Quebec or France, a little harder to find in the US, and easy to cook with.
The first local cider I tried tasted like a really unpleasant vinegar. It was not good, and while I think of myself as pretty forgiving, it was undrinkable. It did not get any better in the cooking.
The second cider was fine, but not dry enough, so when it cooked down the sauce because very sweet and syrupy.
Finally, Dawn of Appetite Portland recommended Kennebec Cider. I have personally seen it at RSVP Discount Beverage on Forest Ave* and the Rosemont Market on Brighton Ave**, and it’s stocked at a number of other local shops. They make a really nice semi-dry cider, which is still drier than what many people expect from a cider. Even better, they make their cider from local (Kennebec Valley) apples. It worked perfectly.
Braised Chicken, Norman Style
Adapted from An Apple Harvest by Frank Browning and Sharon Silva.
This recipe requires very little hands-on work. You brown the chicken, then basically abandon it for half an hour, then come back to make a really simple sauce from the cooking liquid. Chicken thighs are cheap, flavorful, and relatively hard to mess up (they don’t dry out like chicken breasts do), and the finished dish is rich and hearty. It would be nice with a side of roasted Brussels sprouts.
You really want to use a dry or semi-dry cider, or the sauce will become cloying.
I cook this in my small enameled casserole and it all just barely fits, but it works really well. You could cook it in a larger enameled casserole if you have one or a deep frying pan. I don’t think you want a ton of space around the chicken thighs, though, or you’ll have to use a lot of cider to reach the upper sides of the thighs.
The original recipe calls for 6 chicken thighs and says it serves six. I make it with four chicken thighs and think it serves two. Your mileage may vary.
Salt and pepper the chicken thighs.
Melt the butter over medium to medium-high heat in the enameled casserole. Brown the chicken thighs well on both sides, about 10 minutes (I have to mash them in there to get them to fit, but it’s fine).
Add the sage and pour in the cider, it should cover all but the tops of the thighs. Once everything is boiling, decrease the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes.
Remove the thighs to a warmed platter (read: a plate either left on the oven top if the stove is on or microwaved in 15-second increments) and cover to keep warm. Add the cream to the cooking liquid, raise the heat to high, and boil for 5 or 6 minutes, until thickened. Add the Calvados for the last two minutes of cooking. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Spoon the sauce over the chicken thighs and garnish with sage leaves.
Bonus Round! Sauté unpeeled apple rings in butter until golden/slightly browned and serve over the chicken.
The rest of the O-Rama posts about cooking with Maine beverages will be collected on the Portland Food Map website.
* RSVP is kind of scuzzy looking, but the staff were really helpful and knowledgeable when I went and they have a great selection of stuff.
** Rosemont’s website is INSANE (so many fonts! so many colors!) but the market is really nice.