Beth Schiller, a Newcastle farmer, had a surprise last week for all of her winter CSA customers who are sick of eating root vegetables.
Tucked into their next box of vegetables, she told them in an email, would be the season’s first spinach.
And that, my friends, is a much more lovely sign of spring than potholes.
Winter has been a long, hard slog, and if you find yourself dreaming of fiddleheads and custard shacks, well, who can blame you? I took an informal survey recently, asking people what they are looking forward to most, foodwise, this spring, and the answers ranged from the opening of farmers markets and ice cream stands to asparagus, ramps and dug parsnips. Many people said they just want to eat something sitting outside.
I’ve put together a short list of things to look forward to this spring that will help you keep from going stir crazy the next time an icicle drips on your head:
I’M DREAMING OF SPRING GREENS
Schiller said her spinach is growing in one of three greenhouses dedicated to in-ground growing at Dandelion Spring Farm.
After the spinach, she expects to be harvesting sunflower microgreens and radish shoots.
The beneficiaries of all this deliciousness are the people who bought year-round CSA shares from her farm. If you don’t have anything like that, you can still get ready for the bounty of summer produce, meats and eggs that will be available through local CSAs. This is the time of year most farmers are signing people up.
For some reason, there was no CSA fair in Portland this year where you could go and meet local farmers and talk to them about what they’re growing this year. As an alternative, go the CSA directory maintained by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association at mofga.net/Directories/CommunitySupported AgricultureinMaine.
It’s fun to scroll through the farms to see what they have to offer. Frith Farm in Scarborough, for example, has an option that includes two fresh heritage-breed chickens a month in its CSA program. Green Spark Farm in Cape Elizabeth offers, in addition to the usual veggies, rare crops such as heirloom melons, husk-cherries and sweet Italian peppers.
WARM UP WITH SPRING GARDENS AND ARTISANAL FOODS
The Portland Flower Show, which opens Wednesday night at the Portland Company Complex and runs through Sunday, is not a food event but there are food-related aspects that make it worth including here.
The indoor gardens created by local landscapers are, of course, the biggest draw. Stepping into them is a little magical. The warmth that embraces you, the flowers, shrubs, trees and water features will make you feel as if life has been fast forwarded to May or June.
Along with the gardens, though, you’ll find folks selling their artisanal food products, herbs and information on herb gardens, and lectures on beekeeping.
Ticket prices vary, ranging from $13 to $50 depending on how many days you want to attend. For more information, go to portlandcompany.com/flower.
ICE CREAM SHACK ATTACK
Who needs robins? In Maine, ice cream and custard shacks are the true harbingers of spring. Most open in April, a few start scooping early in March, and some wait all the way until May. Here are a few that are opening sooner rather than later:
• Beal’s Ice Cream in Gorham (located at routes 25 and 237) will be opening Thursday, weather permitting.
• Mainely Custard, the frozen custard stand on Route 1 in Freeport, plans to re-open in April.
• Aggie’s, 106 Agamenticus Road in South Berwick, may open at the end of March, if there’s a break in the weather. You’ll need that running start, since this stand has more than 100 flavors.
A SWEET REPRIEVE
Maple sugaring season may be a bit of a tease this year, depending on what Mother Nature decides to do over the next few weeks. But what better way to get over the winter doldrums than a spoonful or two of this natural antidepressant?
The cold weather we’ve had this winter, interspersed with warm spells, has been sending maple trees, and maple producers, mixed messages. There’s the potential for a later, shortened season, but it’s still too early to tell.
“I know there are some folks in southern Maine who have made syrup already during those brief warm spells that we had, so some syrup has been made,” said Kathy Hopkins, a maple syrup educator with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. “I know a lot of people are still waiting. It’s been way too cold to make any syrup just yet, but they are expecting to.”
Hopkins said one syrup producer recently reminded her that his grandparents never even started tapping their trees until March 1, so everything should be OK.
“The only thing that might interrupt that is if we have a sudden, rapid spring where we go from this cold weather to 80 degrees,” Hopkins said. “That will end the season really quickly. But I’m not really worried yet. It is early still. If it warms up in a week or two or three, we could still have a six-week season and just make syrup into April , and that would be fine.”
Maine Maple Sunday waits for no one, though, so no matter what it feels like outside, you can expect sugar houses to be open on March 23.
Pineland Farms has scheduled maple sugaring sessions open to the public (ages 3 and up) from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on March 13, 19, 22, 25 and 27. The cost is $5 per person.
BEAT THE TOURISTS
So you want to eat outside, eh? The Lobster Shack at Two Lights will be opening on March 29 this year. It may still be a little too chilly to sit outside, but you can still enjoy that incredible view of the Atlantic Ocean while you chow down on a lobster dinner, a mess o’ fried clams or a fish burger. Spring hours will be 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Other upcoming openings:
• Bayley’s Lobster Pound at Pine Point in Scarborough will be re-opening in late March, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
• Barnacle Billy’s in Perkins Cove, Ogunquit, plans to open at 11 a.m. April 4.
• Cape Pier Chowder House, 79 Pier Road in Cape Porpoise, also plans to re-open in April but has not set a specific date yet.
CHOCOLATE. THAT IS ALL
Sometimes, if you’re suffering from winter depression, it’s best to just attack it head on. Sure, those daily sessions with the SAD lamp can be effective, but they take time to work. Here’s a better idea, especially if you feel like you’re about to slide into a black hole you may never climb out of: Jump start those sputtering neurotransmitters with an overdose of chocolate.
Every year the Chocolate Lovers’ Fling provides chocoholics and the winter weary with all the chocolate they can eat in one three-hour sitting. And lest you feel too guilty, it’s all for a good cause: Proceeds go to the Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine. You’ll sample the wares of lots of chocolatiers and vote for your favorites in categories like “Best Candy,” “Best Cupcake” and “Best Needham.”
This year’s fling will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. April 6 at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland. If you haven’t been to one in a while, you’ll be glad to hear there’s no more standing in long lines. The entire event is a sit-down affair now, with wait staff, and the ticket price reflects that. No more general admission. All tickets are now $50.
For tickets, or to learn more about the event, go to chocolateloversfling.org/index.
Your neurotransmitters will thank you.
You know for sure it’s spring when these little green fronds start poking up on river banks and flood plains in April.
If you want to be the first to find out when they’re here, follow this Facebook page: bitly.com/1fPaBq9.
GET YOUR GREEN THUMB READY
Every year in May local garden clubs hold plant sales where you can find all kinds of new things for your garden, including fruits and vegetables, fruit trees, herbs and lots of rare or heirloom varieties.
The plant sale hosted by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension benefits its Master Gardener Volunteers program. This year, the sale will be held on May 17, but you can pre-order asparagus, two varieties of high-bush blueberries or three varieties of strawberries. Just the act of clicking the buy button will make you feel better.
Blueberry plant packs cost $35.95 for three young plants; a pack of 10 asparagus crowns costs $15; and a pack of 25 young dormant strawberry plants costs $15. To place an order, go to umaine.edu/gardening/master-gardeners/benefit.
If you’re thinking only fruit this year, Fedco will be holding its annual tree sale from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 2 and 3 in its new warehouse in Clinton. They’ll have a large assortment of fruit trees and fruiting shrubs. For directions, go to fedcoseeds.com/trees/treesale.htm
If you’re mostly interested in herbs, check out the annual Tate House Museum Herb and Plant sale in May. Watch for details of this year’s sale at tatehouse.org.
SPRING RESTAURANT OPENINGS
Spring is the time new restaurants open, so they can work out the kinks before the flocks of toursists arrive. There aren’t as many new places on the horizon in Portland as last year, but there are at least three can’t-miss spots to watch out for:
• Slab, the new joint venture from chef Jason Loring and beloved Portland baker Stephen Lanzalotta, will be serving Sicilian street food in a renovated 75-seat space in the former Portland Public Market downtown. The restaurant, which will include an outdoor beer garden, was originally slated to open in March or April, but Loring tells me it will now be mid-May before you can get your slab pizza or meatball sub.
• Lolita, the new venture from Guy and Stella Hernandez (owners of the now-closed Bar Lola), is expected to open in May as well, and will be located at 90 Congress St.
• And Cara Stadler, owner of Tao Yuan in Brunswick, has Portlanders salivating at the thought of her new dumpling place at 133 Spring St., former home of the West End Deli and neighbor of Miyake Diner. No firm opening date yet. You know who the luckiest people in the world are? The people who live in that neighborhood.
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: