Summer isn’t over yet.

It’s easy to lose sight of where we are in the season, as we shake off the drizzle from the wettest, muggiest July in more than a century. But as I write this, August is shaping up to be a stunner. And after the downer that was 2020, I’ve spent the first half of the season thinking about ways of capturing summertime in what I eat and drink. If you think that means I’ve been devouring fresh strawberries, corn and blackberries, you’d be correct.

But with every passing year, I realize that sunshine also finds a way of inscribing itself on my food memories. Sometimes they intertwine with seasonal produce, and sometimes, less obviously, they curl their summery tendrils around drinks and dishes that are available year-round. Thank goodness, because once Maine blueberries have been bundled from farm stand to freezer, I’ll rely on these stockpiled sources of solar power to tide me over.

Le Vigne di Alice: Tajad Photo by Andrew Ross

Le Vigne di Alice: Tajad ($18.99 at Rosemont Markets).

The “Prosecco” that dare not speak its name, this blend of heritage grapes from Valdobbiadene and Conegliano is indeed bubbly, brut (ultra-dry) and a geyser of summery sparkle. But because it is vinified from a non-standard blend of 40% Verdiso, 40% Boschera, and only 20% Glera grapes, it does not technically qualify for the “Prosecco” label.

No matter. Everything its more famous, sometimes insipid cousin can do, citrusy Tajad can do better, from pairing with savory pasta dishes to balancing out a bittersweet summertime cocktail like a traditional 3:2:1 Aperol Spritz (3 parts Tajad or Prosecco, 2 parts Aperol, 1 part club soda, serve over ice with a slice of orange).

Devilled Egg Salad Sandwich from Leavitt + Sons Photo by Andrew Ross

Deviled Egg Salad Sandwich from Leavitt & Sons Deli Photo by Andrew Ross

Deviled Egg Salad Sandwich from Leavitt & Sons Delicatessen ($10)

One of my most enduring summer memories comes from the year I turned 19. I was working as a summer intern in a college town in New Jersey, and in a preview of things to come, I developed much more of an interest in the town’s food scene than in what was going on inside my academic department.

In particular, I became obsessed with the locals’ ritual of lining up for mustard-slathered egg-salad hoagies every day at noon. It probably took two days before I joined the queue myself, walking across the campus with a foot-long sandwich that shed fluorescent clumps of lettuce and tomato with every step. I must have gone back five times a week.

In Maine – a state powered by Italian sandwiches – it can be surprisingly tricky to track down a great egg-salad version. That’s not a slight. Egg salad doesn’t keep for long, and unless you’re assembling dozens of sandwiches a day, it makes good business sense to omit it from your menu.

Leavitt & Sons (both the Falmouth and Portland branches) solves this riddle through overlapping menu items. You can purchase a three-pack of their excellent deviled eggs ($2.99) or opt for your hard-boiled eggs to be diced into the same tangy blend of Dijon, mayonnaise and paprika and scooped onto white, wheat, marble rye toast. Add in a few slices of tomato and leafy romaine, and you’ve got a terrific lunch that might remind you of warm weather. Just watch your shirt.

Another counter-seasonal surprise at Leavitt & Sons is their chicken pot pie ($20/large, $10/small, single-serving). They’re ideal for sweltering days when outsourcing oven duties feels like the only option. You won’t be alone. According to owner Pete Leavitt, “Even in June when it was hitting 100 F, people were still buying pot pies.”

Valley View Orchard Pies’ Classic whoopie. Brewster Burns Photography/courtesy of Valley View Orchard Pies

Whoopie pies from Valley View Orchard Pies in Oxford (approximately $2 at Legion Square Market in South Portland and Moorebrook Farm in Scarborough)

Forgive me if this sounds sacrilegious, but there’s no other way to say it: I’ve tasted whoopies from across the state, from Houlton to Bridgton, and none has left me anything more than full. Occasionally, at a picnic or summer party, I’ll take a bite of stale cake or gritty buttercream and think about the calories I’ve wasted. That’s no way to celebrate a classic Maine dessert.

About a month ago on a last-minute shopping trip in Knightville, I tossed a whoopie pie into my basket on a whim. After dinner that night, I was prepared for disappointment but unprepared for vibrant, springy lemon cake and light filling speckled with wild Maine blueberries. I did something I had never done before: I ate the entire thing.

My conversion was complete the next afternoon when I returned and bought two more whoopies: a classic chocolate and a cookies-and-cream. I had to know what Valley View Orchard Pies was doing differently from other bakeries. “We’re just good,” co-owner Cynthia Johnston quipped when I asked. No doubt that’s part of the story. Another is marshmallow fluff, which the bakers whip together with butter and powdered sugar to produce an impossibly airy filling.

When Johnston and her family bought Valley View Orchard Pies in 2018, the small Hebron business was selling just a few dozen whoopie pies a month. Today, they’re baking, filling, shipping and selling 114 dozen every week. I’m prepared to make that 115.

Smoked pork chops from Other Side Delicatessen ($13.99/lb.)

On a visit to Deer Isle a few summers ago, an old friend invited me to taste the short ribs he had been slow-cooking all day in his new smoker. When it came time to eat, he hauled up the lid and used a pair of tongs to extract something that resembled a black yoga mat. “Whoops!” he said with a chuckle, turning the charred oblong over, muttering, “I guess this counts as my first Big Green Disaster.”

We made a meal out of the cornbread and tomato salad I’d brought, and I mentally deleted a backyard smoker from my imaginary shopping list. These days, I leave meat-smoking to the experts, like Pete Sueltenfuss, owner of Other Side Delicatessen, whose smoked pork chops and pork loins ($13.99/lb.) are among the best pre-prepared proteins I have tasted this year.

Other Side sources its pork from Lilac Farm in Skowhegan (via Maine Family Farms), brines the cuts for 24 hours, then dry-rubs the exterior with a sweet-spicy seasoning of brown sugar, paprika, chili flakes and salt, before smoking over applewood.

For a quick meal, I like to reheat the smoked chops at 325 degrees F for half-an-hour, then serve them with a drizzle of chili crisp. Throw a few slices of fresh peach onto the plate while you still can. Then as the seasons change, shift to Cortland apples or cubes of stewed quince. Best of all: This dinner is season-agnostic and (Big Green) disaster-proof.

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of four recent Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association. Contact him at: [email protected]
Twitter: @AndrewRossME


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