Tuesday, December 10, 2013
In Maine, we tend to think of nature as the waves crashing up against the rocks at Portland head, or the eagles soaring over the pines while we picnic somewhere in the midcoast.
But nature is also what we choose to cook and eat every day.
The Nature Conservancy is sponsoring a program this summer, "Nature is ME," that enourages people to examine the role that nature plays in their daily lives. (The Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel are co-sponsoring the program.)
A big part of the Nature is ME program focuses on local foods. Nature Conservancy reps have been putting in appearances at local farmers' markets across the state, and there's a recipe contest that you can enter here that has some great prizes, including gift cards, ski passes and overnight stays at The Birches Resort, the Haraseeket Inn and at a hut on the Maine Huts & Trails system.
All you have to do is share a recipe that uses Maine ingredients and maybe has a special story behind it. Barbara Dunn of Saco has already submitted her recipe for blueberry rhubarb pie, and Gary Sylvester has shared his recipe for carrot top pesto.
Here, for a little inspiration, are a couple of recipes from Misty Edgecomb of the Nature Conservancy, who grew up on a potato farm in Limestone. These recipes for Aroostook Mashed Potato Salad and Brambleberry Shortcake were passed down in her family from her great-grandmother Elsie Young, who lived in Houlton.
Aroostook Mashed Potato Salad
4-6 large baking potatoes (russets from The County preferred)
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 to 3/4 cups mayonnaise
1/4 cup dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley and/or chives
(optional) 1/2 cup finely diced sweet yellow onions
(optional) 1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
(optional) 1/3 cup quartered Spanish olives
Hard boil eggs, cool and peel. Reserve one for decoration, coarsely chop others. Peel, dice and boil potatoes in salted water. Drain potatoes and sprinkle with white vinegar. Mash potatoes, and while they're still hot, mix in condiments and seasonings. Start with 1/2 cup mayo. If you wait until the potatoes have cooled, salad will become gluey. Mixing it hot results in a velvety texture. Fold in chopped vegetables, eggs and herbs. Add additional mayo if needed to keep mixture moist. Spoon into a bowl and smooth the surface with a spoon. Halve remaining boiled egg and place half of yolk sliced side up in the center of the bowl. Slice whites into six segments, arrange around yolk as flower petals. Crumble remaining half yolk over the top of the salad and sprinkle with paprika. Chill before serving.
2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup unsalted butter or shortening, chilled
pinch of salt
3/4 cup milk
2 cups Maine-grown strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or (preferably) a combination of whatever is in season
1/3 cup sugar (for biscuits and berries)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar (for whipped cream)
1/2 teaspoon real vanilla extract
Use a pastry blender or fork and knife to mix fat and dry ingredients until crumbly. Blend in milk, and work dough on floured surface until it holds a shape. Drop approximately 1/3 cup lumps of dough onto a greased cookie sheet (a heaping tablespoon works well). Sprinkle tops with sugar. Bake at 350 until tops are golden brown. You can roll and cut these biscuits, but the crunchy texture of a dropped biscuit is nice in a shortcake. Lightly chop berries and allow them to macerate with a little sugar. My family prefers tart berries paired with sweet cream, but adjust sweetness to taste. Whip cream in a chilled bowl with sugar and vanilla until it forms still peaks. Split biscuits, and in a bowl, top bottom halves of biscuits with a heaping spoonful of berries and juices, then whipped cream. Cap with biscuit top and add a second layer of berries and cream. Eat with a spoon.
Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.
Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business before turning to journalism more than a decade ago. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs. A newcomer to Portland, she is an online content producer for the Press Herald.
Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod [at] pressherald.com.
On Twitter: @susansaxelrod