March 10, 2010

The fairest of the fare

— Nancy Harmon Jenkins jokes that her goal in life is ''to get away from foodie-ness.''

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Staff Photo by Derek Davis: Deering Oaks farmers market. Two-pound baskets of string beans from Pleasant Hill Gardens in Scarborough. Photographed on Saturday, August 15, 2009.

Yet this well-known Maine food writer and cookbook author is the founder of Maine Fare, an annual event that draws foodies to the midcoast like Julia Child to butter.

The foodie-ness that Jenkins disdains is the kind found in the slick food magazines that insist we must be well-versed in exotic ingredients and have the technique of Thomas Keller to be happy in the kitchen, and the foodie-ness that says you have to drop a C-note or more on a single dinner in order to appreciate Maine's restaurant scene.

The foodies that Jenkins hopes to see in Camden at Maine Fare on Sept. 11-13 are the ones who want to educate themselves about food and their food choices, and to learn what's possible in the fields, farms and restaurants of Maine.

If you'd like to learn how to pair Maine-made spirits with smoked seafood, if you want to experience an old-fashioned beanhole supper -- even if you're curious about how to properly butcher a whole hog -- Maine Fare is the place to be, whether you feel comfortable calling yourself a foodie or not.

''People need to know that it's OK to care about what you eat, that it's not being a snob to care about what you eat,'' Jenkins said.


The theme of this year's Maine Fare focuses on Maine's ability to feed itself with a food supply that is both local and sustainable. (For more on this topic, see Avery Kamila's column on F5.)

There will be lots of panel discussions, with topics ranging from the virtues of wild-caught versus farm-raised fish to a historic look at food security: How did Mainers who lived a century ago survive a difficult growing season like the one we experienced this year without the convenience of a neighborhood supermarket?

I'll be moderating a panel exploring how the influx of new Mainers from places such as Africa and Latin America is changing the flavor of what's sold in our markets and found on our plates.

''We've got some great panels,'' Jenkins said. ''This is not just about getting together and eating a lot of food. It's really about understanding food in a deeper way.''

Don't worry, there will be lots of tasting and sampling, too. The popular Friday night ''Gala Tasting Event Under the Stars'' ($75) at the Camden Yacht Club features 15 restaurants, many of them new to the event.

That's deliberate, Jenkins said, to show people that there are lots of great restaurants in Maine that don't get a lot of national attention and won't burn through your dining-out budget in a single visit. Participating restaurants include El El Frijoles in Sargentville, the Burning Tree on Mt. Desert Island, and Cleonice, Chef Rich Hanson's well-regarded restaurant in Ellsworth.

Cooking classes, guided tastings and most other events at Maine Fare are priced a la carte, but the $10 ticket to Saturday's Maine Fare Marketplace in the Knox Mill includes admission to all the panel discussions. The marketplace is a fun place to wander around and meet the folks who produce artisanal cheese, chocolates, condiments and other local products -- and they will have samples to share.

There will also be more formal tastings led by local culinary experts in classroom settings around town. (Each tasting costs $40.) Chef Sam Hayward of Fore Street will be leading a tasting of smoked seafood and spirits from some of Maine's new distilleries Saturday afternoon at the Camden Library.

Jen Flock, the certified sommelier at Browne Trading Co., will also be at the library Saturday, pairing Maine-produced wines with local cheeses, and on Sunday, brewmaster Adam Wilson will be serving up Maine oysters and hand-crafted beers at Brevetto on Mechanic Street.

Hayward said he pushed for the more formal classes this year because too often tastings end up being not much more than a big cocktail party.

''These tasting seminars are sort of set up along the lines of seminars that I've attended at the Salone del Gusto of Slow Food in Turin (Italy), which means it's structured,'' he said. ''It's classroom-style rather than having a party and having casual discussions.''

The makers of the seafood and spirits will be on a dais, ready to answer questions from the public about their products. Look for samples from Bartlett Maine Estate Winery in Gouldsboro, Sweetgrass Farm Winery and Distillery in Union, and Freeport-based Cold River Vodka.

Regarding his own guided tasting, Hayward said he would probably choose beverages other than distilled spirits to pair with smoked seafood if he were looking for a snack, ''but we're going to try it anyway.''

''It's kind of an experimentation,'' he said, ''and I really wanted to make sure we got spirits into this somewhere because that's such a new thing for Maine, to actually have rum and vodkas and gins and eau de vie and brandies. It's really an exciting development.''


Another new event at Maine Fare this year is an old-fashioned beanhole supper, which will be held Saturday evening at the Conway House in Camden, an 18th-century historic house where there is already a stone-lined pit for baking the beans overnight. The beans will be expertly tended by Maynard Stanley.

''Maynard is a critter catcher by day, but at night he moonlights as a beanhole bean man, and he is quite a story,'' Jenkins said. ''He really is very funny.''

The succulent beans will be served with ham, coleslaw, biscuits and honey, and the meal will be topped off with a dessert made with Maine apples. Tickets are $20 for adults and $8 for children ages 12 and under.

One of the more intriguing additions to Maine Fare this year is a hog-butchering class on Sunday afternoon at Saltwater Farm in Lincolnville. The class will be led by Peter Sueltenfuss and Nathan Nadeau, both kitchen staff at Fore Street, who will be bringing along some finished charcuterie for folks to sample. (Don't worry -- the hog will already be dead by the time the class starts.)

''They're going to lead the public through breaking down the hog into its constituent joints, and then show how each part is going to be used to its best and highest use, including charcuterie,'' Hayward said.

Hayward suggested bringing along a digital camera or camcorder to take photos of where, exactly, the shoulder needs to be separated from the ribs, or how to break down a ham.

Lots of restaurants buy entire animals now because it's both fashionable and economical, Hayward said. Buying the whole animal ensures that the chef gets the best cuts of meat. And pork works well with so many different ingredients that it's easy for a restaurant to come up with distinctive preparations that fit its own style.

''Most of the commercial pates and terrines that you can get already prepared have certain exaggerated seasonings that I really find objectionable,'' Hayward said. ''What most of us do in the United States, not having grown up in a real French tradition, is overspice things. I can't tell you how many restaurants I've been to where I'll order a country-style pate, and I'll just get a mouthful of nutmeg.''

But it's not just restaurants that are going whole hog.

''A lot of people are buying half animals or whole animals for the freezer,'' Hayward said, ''but what are they going to do with the bellies and the shoulders and the shanks and the liver and the kidneys? Most of that doesn't make it to the house, because they don't know what to do with it.''

The butchering class will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, and costs $65.

For a complete Maine Fare schedule, go to

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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