Posts Tagged ‘Maine’

If you have a garden, the cucumbers may be trying to take over, gripping everything they can in viney puckers, dropping a little cucumber here and a larger one there – just like so many pods in a science fiction movie trying to take over the world.

If you don’t have a garden it’s a pity. I don’t right now. But then again there’s the Farmer’s Market where cucumbers will be piled in boxes awaiting their fate.

What to do with them. Gazpacho. Salads – simple, complex, Oriental, Germanic. Raita to side a curry or tzaziki to dollop into pita with  grilled faux gyros of ground lamb and beef tossed together with herbs and spices.

Then there’s pickles.

I know of a pickle that many people have never tasted, never heard of. It’s an odd sort of pickle. A rough and ready sort of pickle without the least bit of pretension to finesse. It’s called a Maine (Sour) Mustard Pickle.

The only place I’ve ever had these pickles (aside from when I make them) was in Maine – made by my grandmother who was not a cook by any means and by my aunt who is a good home cook, the first good home cook I ever knew. The taste reminds me of my family, and of the history of my family. The taste is not all sweet, but very real.

It’s best to make these pickles in a real pickle jar – but if you don’t have one they can be made in what you do have.

The big expense will be dry mustard. Surprisingly it isn’t cheap in the usual grocery stores. It can be found in bulk at the ‘health food store’ sometimes at more affordable prices, though.

If you like pickles and if you like mustard, these are worth a try. They will start off gentle and become more sour as time progresses – denser, more puckery.

Here’s a recipe:

Old Fashioned Sour Mustard Pickles

2 quarts of apple cider vinegar
½ cup salt
½ cup sugar
½ cup ground dry mustard
Some garlic cloves, peeled (optional)

Wash and dry the whole cucumbers and garlic and pack them into jars or a crock, the bigger the vessel the better.
Mix together other ingredients and pour over cucumbers. Close jars or crock and store in a cool place.
The pickles will be quite sour within a week.

(From Snell Family Farm)

P.S. “Kirby” style cucumbers are best for this recipe somehow but the larger cucumbers cut in chunks will do though they will pickle faster and taste even stronger. 🙂

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Rumor has it that lobster and clams don’t taste the same bought in town rather than at the lobster pound. This is entirely true, so a drive to the lobster pound set way out on the dock where waves crashing up against the rocky shore spatter saltwater onto your face is always the first step to do for anyone who wants a Shore Dinner.

Back at camp (“camp” being Maine slang for a summer house on a lake) big pots the size of small steamships are set on the stove. The grownups start their dinner with lashes of stiff libations – usually gin and tonics.

They always drank heavily in those days but never appeared to be inebriated, aside from the same jokes reappearing year after year as if they were new . . . and for the occasional slurred word. We children jumped in and out of the lake eating potato chips, cashew nuts or Cheetos – whatever could be caught up in a fast handful while throwing the bent and battered plastic Frisbee to the wet smelly archetypical Golden Retriever wandering from family to family endlessly through the summer days, amiable tail slowly wagging, panting big pink tongue ever-so-slightly drooling.

The call to “Come Eat!” brought us to a table ready-set with piles of grayish-silver steamer clams. They were the color of city sidewalks, their long black necks sticking out rudely like ugly tongues. Eating them was both a grim challenge and a titillating delight – how gross they really were! – chewy with a slight hint of underlying bitterness, a textured blend of rubber cement and jelly with the occasional bit of grit to hit teeth with resounding crunch.

The grownups switched down to beer for the meal, the kids poured themselves kool-ade, the ice clinking into the tall glasses from plastic flower-decorated pitchers. Then, with a whiff of dense essential sea rising from them, the lobsters arrived.

Huge platters came out from the kitchen carried by the women with much pomp and circumstance – each one piled with a tangle of jolly red lobsters still steaming from the pots they’d been dunked in head-first such a short while ago, kicking, snapping, and still alive – to boil just five minutes to fragrant sweet perfection.

Everyone grabbed their lobster, a lobster cracker, a lobster pick, and set to work with serious and messy intent, for each piece of meat had to be dunked quickly in the only thing God put lobster down on this earth for: drawn butter.

There was corn on the cob and potato chips and sometimes a little salad. That was it, and that was enough.

When every bit of lobster had been pulled, squeezed or tormented out of its shell, we ran to the lake to wash off all the sticky bits while the fireflies timidly started to blink in the gathering dusk.

The dragonflies drew ever-lazier circles in the air around us till it was time for dessert: strawberry shortcake – a simple thing – sweetened warm biscuits drenched with juices of crushed berries picked almost-melting that same day. Sweeter than any Popsicle invented those berries were, and the freshly whipped cream was generously ladled out, falling sideways in huge mounds over the top.

When night had truly fallen, when it was so dark nobody could really see the face of who they were talking to, one of my three boy cousins would usually try to stick a small frog or some other disgusting thing down the back of my bathing suit as we played near the lake. I’d scream and run and cry while the boys just laughed their heads off. My aunt would scold them vigorously (something they seemed immune to), and off we went to bed.

That’s a Shore Dinner as I remember it, at the end of a warm summer’s day when I was a child. I hope it still exists, within driving distance of the Maine shore, for those who live there now.


Postscript: Maine lobster is on the list of “sustainable seafoods”.

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