MAINE FARE: QUITE THE FOODIE EVENT

This past weekend my husband, Clif, and I went to Camden’s Maine Fare: Celebrating the Bounty of Maine. He took the pictures, now it’s up to me to write about what we ate, saw, and heard. Readers, this was a terrific foodie event, and I regret that I’ll only be able to give a brief description of what Maine Fare had to offer. My best piece of advice is this: If at all possible, plan on going to next year’s Maine Fare, even if it means an overnight stay in the area. You will not regret it. 

The first thing I would like to comment on is how affordable Maine Fare was to people with modest incomes, a description that describes many people in Maine, including Clif and me. Yes, there were some expensive events, with a special dinner costing $75 per person. There were also $40 seminars. But here is what $10 would get you: admission to the Maine Fare Marketplace at Knox Mill in downtown Camden as well as to various panels, talks with Maine food writers, and cooking demonstrations. An incredible bargain, and there was even a special offer of $15 for a two-day ticket, for Saturday and Sunday. At the Marketplace, there was such a wealth of Maine food vendors—thirty-five or so—that I felt positively giddy when I walked into the room where they were set up. And did they ever have samples! So many that a foodie could eat herself silly, which is just what I did. Oh, the chocolates, the cheeses, the bread, and the wine. The ice cream, the apple salsa (yes, apple, and delicious), and the smoked seafood. I am happy to report that along with all the gleeful sampling, people were also buying some of these luscious products. Clif and I did our fair share, coming home with chocolate, cheese, and apple salsa. 

We went to two extremely informative and interesting panel discussions, both centered on whether Maine could feed itself. The answer was yes, with the qualifier that nobody is in a hurry to give up spices and olive oil and citrus. But the general feeling was that we needed to take greater responsibility for feeding ourselves, that we import too much food, and, ironically, this includes seafood. I was struck by the comment, (made, I think, by Craig Lapine, president of Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association): “How much we lose as a culture when we choose not to feed ourselves.” Yes, we do, and when we think of a culture that promotes “the good life,” a life that is productive yet relaxed and joyful, France, the land of good eating, especially comes to mind.

Clif and I learned that in the 1830s, Maine was considered one of the breadbaskets of New England, and the state grew an incredible amount of grain. Now, most of our grain comes from the Midwest, but there is a slow but steady resurgence in growing our own. We also found out there were plans afoot in Skowhegan to convert an old jail into a grain mill, and Clif is especially interested in seeing if he can take pictures of the jail as it undergoes its transformation.

I could write 2,000 words or so just on the topic of Maine feeding itself. It is a big subject. I did take plenty of notes, which I expect I’ll be referring to for future pieces, either for this blog or for Wolf Moon Journal. However, my all-time favorite remark came from Marada Cook, from Crown O’ Maine Organic Cooperative: “We need to eat and drink more.” Now, in this country, how often do you hear that kind of advice? Especially from a very trim young woman? She did add that we might want to expand our palates. No argument from Clif and me, and judging by the laughing and clapping, the rest of the audience approved as well. 

We did splurge and go to a guided taste seminar—Smoke & Spirits—led by Sam Hayward, the chef of Fore Street Restaurant in Portland. From 1:30 to 3:00 we sipped locally made vodka, gin, and brandy, and we ate smoked seafood. We were asked to consider the various aromas and tastes, and how they combined with each other. This we did, and by the time 3:00 rolled around, many of us were a little tipsy. Those spirits were strong. Let’s just say that after this seminar, the general mood in the women’s restroom was quite jolly. Among other things, I did learn something fascinating about blueberries. When we tasted blueberry vodka, my first impression was of a peppery taste, not unpleasant, but quite strong. I mentioned this, and there was bit of a silence. Then, one of the distillers mentioned that this often happens with blueberries when they are fermented, and it can be a problem. A little later, when the seminar was over, I remembered how once in awhile when I would buy a pint of blueberries, they would produce a hot tingle on my tongue. At the time, I wondered if something had contaminated them, but now I know they were starting to ferment. Well… 

The last thing I would like to mention about Maine Fare is its wonderful atmosphere. The staff, the volunteers, and the vendors were friendly, and so was everybody else. Complete strangers began conversations, about food, of course, and this was an event that could be attended alone with no feeling of being left out. 

All in all, a splendid weekend. I can’t wait for Maine Fare 2010.