Granted, Southern barbecue has made its way north in a big way and is apt for a July 4 picnic. Sure, Mainers’ traditional July 4 supper is salmon, new potatoes and garden peas, and who can argue with that? (An 1899 July 4 menu from Hotel North in Augusta — housed in the menu collection of the New York City public library — expands on those with Stuffed Saddle of Veal; Native Spring Lamb with Brown and Mint Sauce; Philadelphia Capon with Cream Sauce; and much more).

But really, does anything bring to mind July 4 and the summer stretching out ahead as much as burgers sizzling on the backyard grill? Even though Independence Day is, by definition, a national holiday, we hope you’ll indulge us as we build a very local burger. If you skip the supermarket and the big commercial producers, if you buy local for these items, expect to pay more. But, hey, what price patriotism?

THE MEAT OF THE MATTER: Customers praise the ground beef from Heartstone Farm in Charleston for its “really beefy” flavor. The beef comes from cows that are grass-fed, never eat grain, and are slaughtered just 30 minutes away, at Herring Brothers in Guilford. You can buy it ground or in patties (4 per package, 1 pound total, $9). “Farmer Dan” Kaplan warns against overcooking grass-fed meat. He grills his beef until it registers 125 degrees, then quickly sears it before lowering the heat, and slow cooking the burgers until done. Find Heartstone Farm beef, tagline “We raise beef the way nature intended,” at some local restaurants — including the Lost Kitchen in Freedom  — or buy it online at

OUR DAILY BREAD: Many a good burger has been ruined by a terrible bun. Avoid that tragic fate by shopping for burger buns at Rosemont Market. In the summer, burger buns are on standby at each of the market’s seven locations. On July 4 weekend especially though, call ahead, advises Rosemont butcher Matt McElwee, because the buns — sold in packages of four for $5 —  are popular and may sell out.

MUSTARD LOVE:What kind of Mainers would we be if we didn’t shower love on Raye’s Mustard, which has more than cut the mustard for over 100 years. Raye’s operates out of the same Eastport mustard mill on the same machines as when it first opened in 1900. The Raye family says its small-batch, “traditional cold grind process,” preserves the taste of the mustard seed. We heartily second that. Down East Schooner, a classic yellow mustard ($5 for a 9-ounce jar), enhances any burger. And you can buy Raye’s mustard at Hannaford.

BLESSED ARE THE CHEESE MAKERS: As with most things food, Maine has had an incredible flowering of cheesemaking in the last decade; according to the Maine Cheese Guild, the state has roughly 80 cheesemakers. So it’s easy to find a wide range of local cheeses for your burger. Lauren Pignatello, of Swallowtail Farm and Creamery in Whitefield, makes several types of cheese, all in small batches. She offered an unconventional burger recipe for “a cheese-infused burger.” Instead of topping your burger with cheese, try adding Swallowtail crumbled feta to the ground meat mix before shaping the patties. Locally, find Swallowtail cheeses at the Portland Farmers’ Market; Lois’ Natural Marketplace in Portland and Scarborough; or at the farm’s own shop, Milk & Honey on Cove Street in Portland.


EAT YOUR GREENS: To choose the best greens for your all-local burger, we avoided the obvious (iceberg) and went straight to the experts for advice: East Ender in Portland, which serves a luscious burger that our Dine Out critic has praised its “sheer depth of flavor.” General Manager Janet Webber says the restaurant uses a baby green leaf lettuce blend for the “perfect crunch.” To replicate that, find the right greens for your burger at your local farmers market. Cornerstone Farm, which sells at Portland’s Saturday market in Deering Oaks Park, suggests leaf lettuce and romaine lettuce, each $2 a head, to achieve that perfect crunch.

Not to be a tease, but these local tomatoes were shot on August 26 a few summers ago. Your choices for a July 4 backyard barbecue won’t be so robust. Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer

A GOOD-LOOKING TOMATO: Sorry, Mainers, face facts. You live in the North, plus we’ve had an unusually cold, wet spring. Even in the best of times, local tomatoes (excepting not-ideal-for-burgers cherry tomatoes) rarely ripen until late July at the earliest. Which leaves you with a couple of choices: 1) Buy greenhouse-grown tomatoes from New Gloucester-based Olivia’s Garden. Owner/grower Scott Howard suggests Olivia’s orange beefsteak. “It’s beautiful, with great flavor,” he said. “We eat with our eyes, and the presentation would be great.” Find them for $3.75 a pound at Olivia’s Garden’s farm stand at the Portland Farmers’ Market, or at Rosemont and Bow Street markets. 2) Skip the tomato slice and use your own DIY ketchup (see Green Plate Special).

IN A PICKLE: We like Lyman-based Maine Homestead’s Bread & Butter Pickle ($7.99 for a 16-oz. jar) atop our burgers. Homestead owner Krista Gagne says it’s her grandparents’ favorite. Both the crunch and the sweet yet tangy flavor complement a burger, she added. Gagne got her start in the business in 2011, when her grandfather grew more cucumbers than they knew what to do with. She pickled and sold some 100 jars’ worth, launching her pickle business from her grandparents’ basement. Today she sells 11 types of pickled products, around Maine and New England.

Food Editor Peggy Grodinsky contributed to this story.

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