Today is Statehood Day, the day that Maine was born 200 years ago.

Some Mainers have already raised a glass to toast the occasion; local breweries and distilleries have made it easy to do so with bicentennial-themed beers and cocktails spotlighting local ingredients. Indeed, bartenders, especially, seem to have grabbed onto this party with gusto. Proceeds from bicentennial cocktails made at several bars will go to charitable causes.

A Portland restaurant plans a bicentennial dinner that will reflect on the history of food here, from the shellfish eaten by native Maine communities to today’s urban foodie culture. A series of fundraising dinners will help preserve the historic Blaine House. And Mainers of all stripes are contributing family recipes and photos to a new cookbook that will document what Mainers ate and eat.

Here’s a closer look at some of the food-and-beverage highlights we can look forward to during this bicentennial year:

WHO WANTS TO BLOW OUT 200 CANDLES?

Every birthday needs a birthday cake, and Barbara Bubar was thrilled to be asked to make Maine’s 200th. That is, until concern about the coronavirus cancelled the state’s big birthday bash that was scheduled to take place today in Augusta.

Bubar, born and raised in Gardiner, works in the bakery department at Hannaford’s Augusta store, which offered to donate the official Bicentennial birthday cake for the Statehood Day celebration. She planned to bake five sheet cakes, each serving 60 to 80 people, plus an 8-inch cake for the stage, to be cut by the governor.

You might expect such a significant milestone cake to feature, say, a 3-D replica of Mount Katahdin, or a fleet of fondant lobster boats. But Bubar was instructed to decorate the top of the cakes simply, with the bicentennial logo, which includes the dates 1820 and 2020, and the state’s motto, Dirigo, with the phrase “Leading the Way.” The cakes were to be marble cakes with vanilla frosting and sprinkles. (After all, what’s a birthday cake without sprinkles?)

Bubar was most excited about delivering the goods: She was supposed to escort the cakes to the celebration site in Hannaford’s horse-drawn buggy. “I’m not going to lie,” she said late last week after learning of the cancellation. “I’m bummed.”

She’s hoping it’s just a postponement and she’ll get to ride in that buggy at a birthday party later this year.

A STATE-WIDE COMMUNITY COOKBOOK

As Karl Schatz and Margaret Hathaway pored over the family recipes that landed in their email boxes every day, they were surprised by the emotions that overcame them. People wrote about the food they survived on during the Depression, and other similarly intense stories.

“Tears would be streaming down our face reading these people’s stories,” Schatz said.

Schatz and Hathaway, who live on a farm in Gray and have co-authored several previous books, hope to see the Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook at bookstores by mid-June.

The book will feature recipes from famous Mainers and some of the state’s top chefs, but most will be from ordinary people who simply want to share their love of food and family. The couple are still whittling down the more than 350 submissions to 200 recipes.

“It’s hard to cut someone’s recipe when they sent this really heartfelt story that this was their grandmother’s recipe and now every time they make it, it reminds them of her,” Schatz said.

The Maine Bicentennial Cookbook includes 200 recipes from famous Mainers, Maine chefs and plenty of ordinary residents of the state. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Funded by a $32,000 Kickstarter campaign, the cookbook will include family recipes from the likes of Gov. Janet Mills, Sen. Angus King and astronaut Jessica Meir, whose family contributed her favorite chickpea salad recipe because she is orbiting the Earth aboard the International Space Station, a tad far from the Meir kitchen. Writer Stephen King contributed a dish that Schatz calls “the antithesis of the Jessica Meir recipe” — Lunchtime Gloop, a mix of hamburger and canned spaghetti served with buttered Wonder Bread. Apparently his kids have always loved it. His wife, not so much.

James Beard award-winning chef Sam Hayward, who co-founded the Portland restaurant Fore Street, is sharing his braised lamb shoulder. Krista Kern Desjarlais, owner of the Purple House in North Yarmouth and a James Beard semifinalist this year, has offered up her recipe for fried pickled smelt. Two Shaker recipes are included in the book, as well as three from immigrants representing the state’s population of  “new Mainers.”

Among the book’s photos is one of the Lancey House, a Pittston inn that had its heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It burned down in 1965. A member of the family that owned the inn sent in vintage photos, as well as the recipe for Lancey House Dip, which the family still makes. “It just shows how powerfully food connects us not only to people but to places,” Schatz said.

Don Lindgren, owner of Rabelais Books in Biddeford, wrote the introduction and contributed expertise on culinary history and Maine’s tradition of community cookbooks. Food writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins and Maine food historian Sandra Oliver contributed essays. Jim Hanna, executive director of the Cumberland County Food Security Council, wrote about food insecurity in Maine. (Two dollars from the sale of each cookbook will be donated to organizations working to end hunger in Maine.)

The cookbook costs $20.20. Watch the Maine200.org website for information on how to pre-order.

COCKTAIL PARTY

Every penny spent on the $200 Bicentennial Cocktail for two at the Batson River tasting room will go to a local charity. Nicole Wolf Photography

People like to complain about the price of cocktails. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Matt Dyer, co-founder and director of operations at Batson River Brewing and Distilling in Kennebunk, is selling a Bicentennial Cocktail for two that will set you back two C-notes. The drink is made with the distillery’s Clock Farm Vodka, dried Maine blueberries, Maine-grown ginger, Maine honey, and spruce tips frozen last spring. “It’s kind of a riff on a Moscow mule, with Maine honey,” Dyer said.

Batson River started serving the drinks in January. Every penny of the $200 price tag is donated to charity. This month, the money will go to Community Outreach Services, which helps low-income Mainers pay for food and fuel.

So far, they’ve sold just a couple of the cocktails, but “a lot of people ask about it,” Dyer said.

*****

For another charitable, but cheaper, choice, go to Blyth & Burrows in Portland, where the Eighteen Twenty pays homage both to Maine’s bicentennial and to the two sea captains for whom the bar is named.

The Blyth & Burrows Eighteen Twenty is made with Three of Strong Stone Pier Rum, blueberry juice, sherry, evergreen tincture, and potato horchata, Photo by Anthony DiBiase

British Commander William Blyth and Captain Samuel Burrows, an American, died in the same battle in 1813 and were buried side by side in Portland’s Eastern Cemetery. Maine became a state seven years later. Blyth & Burrows’ Eighteen Twenty cocktail  goes on the menu today and will be sold all year. It costs $18.20, and $8.20 from every drink sold will be donated to Spirits Alive, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of Eastern cemetery.

The Eighteen Twenty includes potato horchata, a Maine spin on the sweet, cinnamon-scented rice drink from Mexico. Bartender Caleb Landry steeps Maine potatoes overnight in warm water. The next day, he blends the mixture and sweetens it with sugar. “It’s a little earthy. It’s still silky. It’s a little fluffy, pillowy on the top,” Landry said.

*****

What would it be like to walk into a bar in 1820 and order a drink? That’s what Jordan Milne, founder and distiller at Hardshore Distilling Company, and tasting room manager Jaren Rivas wondered when they were trying to come up with a bicentennial-themed cocktail.

The Martinez, considered the grandfather of the modern martini, will represent the 1920s era on Hardshore Distilling’s bicentennial cocktail menu. Photo by Anthony DiBiase Photography

They decided to focus on three points in Maine history —1820, 1920 and 2020 — and create drinks that would mimic drinks and trends that people living at the time might have encountered at their local bar. Ultimately, they developed six cocktails, two for each era. They put an incredible amount of thought and work into their drinks. For instance, to reflect the sweeter, more robust gin found in 1820, Hardshore aged gin in new oak barrels for four months, then used it to make slings, a popular drink at the time.

The cocktails ($15 each) will go on sale this weekend and be offered through the end of March. Three dollars from each cocktail will be donated to the Center for Grieving Children in Portland.

*****

Finally, bartenders in Ellsworth are competing for the coveted golden cocktail shaker, the prize for winning a regional bicentennial cocktail contest sponsored by the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce. The contest runs concurrently with the region’s annual March Dine Around event. Diners can sample the bicentennial-themed cocktails at the seven participating restaurants, then vote for their favorites online through March 31.

YOUR TURN, BEER LOVERS

So many cocktails! But several Maine craft brewers are jumping on the Bicentennial bandwagon, too. Maine Beer Company was the first, in January, with the release of its Bicentennial IPA, made with Maine-grown hops and grains. It’s already sold out, but will be back on the shelves in May.

In early February, Batson River released a Maine Bicentennial IPA made with local hops, malt and wildflower honey.

And on April 1, Shipyard Brewing Co. will bring back its Chamberlain Pale Ale, a classic English-style ale named for Civil War hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Only this time it will be called Maine Bicentennial Ale.

To celebrate Maine’s bicentennial, Shipyard Brewing Co. will bring back Chamberlain, an English-style ale named after Civil War hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Photo courtesy of Shipyard Brewing Co.

HISTORY LESSON OVER DINNER 

In April, Union Restaurant at the Press Hotel in Portland is teaming up with Maine Food For Thought, a company that offers food tours of Portland, to hold a four-course bicentennial dinner for a dozen diners.

The menu will include ingredients that represent the state’s food history, which Maine Food for Thought founder Bryce Hach will discuss at the dinner. (Hach is launching a new “Past, Present, Future” tour in June, so this will serve as a preview.)

Expect to hear about Maine’s native tribes and the foods they relied upon, including fish, blueberries and fiddleheads; potatoes and the historic importance of the cod fishery; Prohibition, when “our collective sweet tooth got a little sweeter,” Hach said, with the rise of the soda fountain; canning factories and other food industries that have come and gone; lobster and the growth of craft beer; and finally foods of the future, such as farmed fish, invasive green crabs and seaweed-fed cattle.

“I would say if anything, it’s an homage to the adaptability of Maine people,” Hach said.

Hach and chef Joshua Berry will join the group for dinner, which is scheduled for April 16. Tickets cost $75 at eventbrite.com.

LOBSTER, MORNING, NOON AND NIGHT

If your idea of celebrating Maine’s Bicentennial is celebrating its most iconic food — lobster — boy, are you in luck.

The Sebasco Harbor Resort in Phippsburg is offering two bicentennial packages. One of them includes — we’re not kidding — all-you-can-eat lobster. It’s called the Bicentennial Lighthouse & Lobster Lovers Package. That’s right, it also includes Maine’s other cultural totem, the lighthouse. The resort has a 1945 lighthouse on the property with 10 guest rooms. The deal costs $200 per person and includes an overnight stay in the lighthouse and lobster for breakfast (say, a lobster omelette), lunch (perhaps a lobster roll) and dinner (the classic steamed lobster). And yes, you can order all the lobster you can eat (we triple checked). Each person in the room needs to be on the package to qualify for this lobster palooza. Rooms must be booked by March 31 for stays through June 24.

BLAINE HOUSE BLOWOUT

The details are still in the works, but expect a series of ticketed, bicentennial-themed fundraising dinners at the Blaine House, the home of the governor, later this year.

Leslie Oster, director of the Blaine House, says that 2020 is also the centennial birthday of the Blaine House, which needs funding for its upkeep. “We think it’s a good time to capture peoples’ interest,” she said.

The dinners — there will probably be six — will feature guest chefs as well as the Blaine House chef, and each may focus on a particular period of time in the state’s history, Oster said. Watch for details on the Blaine House website as well as on Maine200.org.

Happy birthday, Maine!!


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