In Maine, Labor Day—the advent of September and fall—is a bittersweet event. On the one hand, there is no lovelier time of year than autumn. First there is the weather—warm, dry, and sunny, with deep blue skies. This is followed by October and explosions of color as the trees go from being cool green to eye-popping red, orange, and yellow. Yet Mainers know all too well what comes after all this beauty. Many months—five, to be exact—of freezing rain, snow, slippery roads, and aching cold. Yes, winter has its frosty beauty, but the older one gets, the less impressive this beauty is.
Therefore, I’ve come to regard Labor Day weekend as a gateway to fall and to all things colder. What better way to celebrate (or prepare) than with a weekend of food, friends and family? And that’s just what we did this year.
On Saturday, my husband, Clif, our daughter Shannon, her fiancé, Mike, and I went to the Windsor Fair, a small honky-tonk event complete with rides, games, livestock, and horse races. We, however, went mostly for the food, glorious deep-fried grub, as the writer Lesley Blanch might have put it. Clif and I started with fried dough, moved on to hand-cut French fries, followed with funnel cake (fried dough’s competitive cousin), and ended with crisp, fried, sweet whole clams (no strips for us!) and more hand-cut French fries. In between the French fries and the funnel cake, I cleansed my palate with a candy apple, which was surprisingly tart and fresh. Clif had a sausage digression, an extremely smelly one, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Shannon and Mike had falafel and a chicken gyro. (My, how fairs have changed since I was young. There was even a stand that sold Thai food.) Since Clif and I don’t go on rides anymore, I had supposed we’d only be at the fair for a few hours, but I had seriously underestimated how long it would take us to eat our way around the midway. We got there around 11:30 in the morning, and we didn’t leave until 4:30 or so. Warmed by the sun, propelled by the crowds and the noise of the rides, we had what can only be described as a grand eating day.
Sunday was a more genteel eating day, although one might argue that the quantity of food still tipped the scales in an excessive direction. We had friends over for a barbecue on our patio, an event that started at 2:00 P.M. and ended at 7:00 P.M., with steady eating pretty much the whole time. We began with an assortment of cheeses—Vermont cheddar, a spicy chive Cotswold, a mango Stilton, and a smooth local goat cheese—with crackers and nuts. Next came Clif’s specialty, grilled bread, which he has learned how to toss like a real pro. Could we serve the grilled bread by itself? We could not, and I had prepared a platter of grapes and local cantaloupe to go with it. Then came the main event—grilled chicken with a lemon-mustard glaze, potato salad, and green beans (from Farmer Kev’s stand) with browned butter and roasted almonds. As we finished the third course, it seemed that my friend Beth Clark had read my mind. She said simply, “Food, friends, and family.” To which I responded, “What else is there?” For dessert we had Beth’s delectable blueberry cake, from a Marge Standish recipe, along with ginger snaps Beth had bought at her local farmer’s market.
On Sunday, we had to have a follow-up, more modest perhaps, but very tasty, mostly because of the freshness of the food. Shannon and Mike came over for what might very well be the last barbecue of the season. This time we had teriyaki chicken, corn on the cob from a local stand, some of Farmer Kev’s small, red potatoes, roasted with garlic, and homemade bread not long out of my oven. As the crickets sang and the sun went down, we all raised our glasses to summer. Farewell, until next year. We will certainly miss you.