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The Root Cellar

What’s in your root cellar? Possibly more important than “what’s in your wallet” as the commercial goes.

Here, I’m sharing an image of my little farmstead. The reason being that not only is it a beautiful shot of Maine in March, but perhaps you can imagine my traditional root cellar built into the basement of this old house I call home. The temperature stays at an ambient 40 degrees, much like my restaurant’s walk in. Good for roots, cabbage and wine too!

March is a key month for eating up what remains in store from the growing season. Typically, in Maine, that’s apples, potato, onions, turnip, cabbage and carrots. Add some salted or corned beef and we can see how the boiled dinner stayed a key player in late winter menus the world over. I’m thinking of the Irish corned beef and cabbage popular at St.Patrick’s Day and how appropriate that still is to a traditional Maine menu.

Let’s finish up with apple pie and celebrate the best of Maine and Ireland this St. Patrick’s Day.

February Valentines

Valentine’s day is the bright point in an otherwise grey Maine month.

While the occasional fine winter weather creates an opportunity to get outside and play, it’s easy to let thoughts of a sandy beach or exotic shores take over.

Winter is a great time to travel and dream. Or to hunker down and embrace the goodness of Maine solitude if travel isn’t in the plans. Imagine a cozy fire, dinner on a cookstove, wet mittens from a ski or a good read and beloved pet who’s happy to have you at home on a snow day!

This Valentine’s Day for me will be a homespun one…a dinner table set for two in front of the fireplace and a French farmhouse speciality simmering on the back of the stove. A chocolate dessert.

That’s how this year feels to me and I am grateful for home, hearth and companionship.

Vegan-Resolve To Eat Clean

Photo Credit Laura Cabot

What does it mean to be a Vegan? In a phrase, “a stricter vegetarian.”

There is a rainbow of variations on veganism: flexitarin, pescatarian, lacto-ovo veg, lactose free veg, ovo -veg…and these are not new ideas. Some of these date from the 6th century BC. Many believe that Jesus was vegetarian, maybe even a Vegan.

When considering a super clean and eco-responsible diet, Veganism immediately comes to mind. By omitting animals from the diet , and the violence of slaughter , animal testing and animal by-products as well as embracing a “plant forward” approach to diets and eating, the focus changes to one that supports our planet in less obvious ways. Vegan speaks to health, ethics, environmentalism and in some cases religion. As well as being kinder and gentler on the body, which is the ultimate “temple.”

In today’s world, the average chicken consumption per person is 100 pounds annually, up markedly from years past. Have you ever thought about how much water this generates the need for? In the chicken processing component alone, one of the world most precious resources is extravagantly overused. Yes it’s true that vegetables need water too, but soybeans require far less of a “footprint” than say beef, the biggest user/ polluter of them all.

“Problems are born of excess”. This is a quote from me. I firmly believer that most disease comes from too much…too much food and drink, too much cholesterol, too much protein ,alcohol, coffee, cheese, whatever… too much quantity, too much inactivity.

Veganism with its insistence on a plant based diet and healthy oils naturally tends towards the inclusion of more vitamins and minerals, fiber and healthy plant compounds.

We need our plants and trees to stay in balance on this earth, not more grazing land for McDonald’s burgers. Give me the mysterious rainforests with all their still undiscovered secrets.

Many people I talk to don’t even try to make New Year’s resolutions. The thinking is that they can’t even change themselves let alone the world. My thinking is that one by one, we can create change if we embrace it ourselves. One by one…. and the time is now.

~ Laura Cabot

Cranberry Bogs

Move over Ocean Spray! Not all cranberries come from Cape Cod.

I was surprised to learn that Maine has it’s own century long heritage of growing and harvesting the tart fruit. A bog or marsh is a beautiful and special ecosystem, formed by glaciers and layered with gravel, sand and peat, attracting many different flora and fauna that thrive with the wetlands. Growing on trailing vines which can live up to 200 years, the garnet red berries are a favorite with deer.

Cranberries need cold and sunshine to develop their color. It’s tricky when it’s close to harvest because it’s a waiting game of developing the deep color without suffering a deep freeze, which ruins the crop. In a Maine summer such as the one we just had, the Maine cranberry crop suffered a pale outcome due to too much rain and not enough sun! A white cranberry can still taste good, but is less marketable. Hey, could that be a marketing angle?

A bog is typically about 18 inches deep and flooded just prior to harvest. Because the berry is built to float due to four air pockets internally in each tiny berry, they are easy to gather with the help of a special contraption called an “eggbeater” which loosens the berry from the vine and allows it to float to the top of the water. They’re then vacuumed up by way or a hose into trucks.

The American cranberry or Vaccinium Macrocarpon grows wild from Georgia to to the Canadian Maritimes and into parts of the midwest. In fact, Wisconsin produces more berries than any other state in America leading in world production. Massachusetts is second. Fun fact, they are sold by weight in units called “barrels” a throwback to days of yore when that was also the prime shipping method .

In Maine expect to find most bogs Downeast, comprised of 30 growers with 80 % located in Washington County. Evidently the warm days and cool nights are a perfect recipe for a very marketable crop combined with an acid soil. Maine now enjoys a multimillion dollar cranberry business. Each barrel is generally worth just under $100…although prices took a dive this season due to poor growing conditions. The buzz is that the niche market and local chefs desiring a local, sustainable and healthy ingredient may make the difference in survival of the industry. So let’s use some Maine cranberries this winter!

There are many reasons to love cranberries. Not only are they rich in fiber, but they support health in the urinary tract and immune system. They’re also very high in antioxidants. Tough to stomach raw, their sourness comes from a high tannin content so they are usually consumed sweetened.Their many uses extend to cooking, baking, smoothies and drinks, even wine.

Maine cranberries during an optimal year are the envy of growers all over the US for the deep color and the especially fine taste they offer. If you do forage and find cranberries, wash them well before eating. They are perfectly safe and healthful raw but should be taken in moderation as they can upset your stomach.

With the holidays upon us, seek out Maine-made ingredients from Maine farmers and growers. Let’s give these hard-working (cranberry) farmers a boost and be good to our bodies too!

Bight Blessing for a Happy Holiday Season, Laura Cabot

Collard Greens

Photo Credit Laura Cabot

If you tour Maine’s farm stands right about now you will find a lot of root vegetables, potatoes, onions, baked goods and donuts….but most notably BRASSICAS.

This plant genus covers all things cabbage-y from Brussel sprouts, so impressive on their thick stalks, to broccolini and broccoli , mustard greens and the many variations of cauliflower…. to my personal favorite, the Collard Greens.

I love them so much that I grow my own. Revered in the Deep South they are wonderful stewed or long cooked with onion a piece of “side meat” which is a fatty cut like bacon, or cut into a chiffonade and blanched to an emerald green. A great side for pork ribs and a nice addition to a vegetable soup.

Collards come into their own after the first frost, which sweetens and tenderizes them making them perfect November fodder. I wait until the frost subsides from the leaves and harvest them in the afternoon for the evening meal. Eating “live” food is a particular joy!

Cook up some cornbread in a spider ( a large cast iron fry pan) and serve up a mess o’ greens with beans or ribs. You will be popular. Promise!

Friendship Maine. And seasonal Maine Pears

by Robert Stafford

Photo credit: Laura Cabot

These are the Seckel pairs pickled as my Great Grandmother Ida taught me to cherish when I was a boy. She was born in 1871 and lived to 1972. They are an important part of many dinners and especially Holidays in my family. I make them as presents for my 9 brother and sisters. When I would make them with Grammy I would always tell her that I can’t wait to eat some with Thanksgiving Turkey or with a big slice of Extra sharp cheddar. She lived her whole life in Vermont so cheddar cheese was always around. She would smile and say she was glad I liked them and would always comment that after a long hard Vermont winter the jars in her pantry of seckel pears might be the only thing to get them thru the winter in the 1800s. Even today almost every farm in Vermont and infanct much of all New England had at least one seckel pear tree. My dad had two I have one. Slice a few and try them with the sharpest cheddar you can find. We eat them with beef, turkey, even salmon. Place them on a cedar wrapped salmon and cook on grill. Awesome. When the jar is empty of pairs I use the juice as a base for my bbq sauce or smoking bath/ glaze.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Stop by any farmstand in Maine in September and be prepared for a gorgeous and colorful bounty! Black Krim, German Stripe, Cherokee Purple, Yellow taxi, Brandywine, Green Zebra, Amish Paste, Ox Heart, Black Prince, Big Rainbow….these are all names of Heritage or Heirloom tomatoes.

Known to gourmands and seed savers alike, these varieties are lacking a gene favored since commercialization back in the forties that offers uniformity. Which is helpful in shipping. But heirlooms are far superior in old fashioned flavor and are just so much fun to work with! And to eat.

Nicely balanced with ample acids to offset sugars, the heirlooms’s classic tang and flavor reign supreme!

Growing Next Level Garlic in Maine

Half my growing area every season is given over to the cultivation of garlic (allium sativum). I plant mine in compost enriched raised beds and I prefer the stiff neck type. I enjoy the variety MUSIC, which is both sharp and mild and has about four large cloves in each head of garlic, making it easy to use.

Garlic, like all of the allium family are essentially bulbs. Like a tulip bulb, garlic is planted in the fall at a depth of about 3 to 4 inches and 5 to 6 inches apart. I then cover the garlic beds with a thick layer of straw to protect them from the winter cold as well as the thaws.

It’s always encouraging to see the first green shoots of garlic poke forth before most anything else in Springtime.

When I’m convinced that the weather has warmed and settled, off comes the straw and the garlic shoots quickly thicken. We enjoy using the young, or green, garlic in stir frys and other preparations.

About mid-June it’s time to cut off the curly scapes, which resemble goosenecks. These would develop into a blossom if not cut. The idea is to send the energy of the growing plant downwards to increase the size of the bulb, not divert it upward into flowers and seeds.

About the third week of July, it’s time to pull the garlic out and let it dry in an airy place, eventually clipping the stem off for storage. The fun of growing your own garlic and superior flavor far exceed anything grown commercially

Garlic may be used fresh, cooked, stored, pickled or fermented. Black garlic, which is fermented, and essential in Korean cuisine, is gaining in popularity for reasons of unique umami flavors and health benefits.

Try something unique and satisfying and try planting some garlic yourself this Autumn! You’ll be glad you did.

Beware Vampires!

Fourth of July in Maine: Cedar Planked Salmon, Peas and New Potato

It’s a Maine tradition that marks the start of the summer season with more. emphasis than the Memorial Day parade.

Our gardens deliver the first peas and new potatoes in early July.. Wonderful Atlantic salmon its available in the market.

Putting it all together in one spectacular meal is a family celebration, with junior shelling the peas, Granddad digging the potatoes and Mother finding the nicest fresh filet of salmon.

We like to fire up the grill, season the fish and place on a new cedar shingle. It all goes on the grill, the cedar burning around the edges and giving the fish a bit of smoke. Yep. Its really works! Quite delicious too.

Add some Romesco sauce …you can fire grill the red peppers for this while the grill is on…. (recipe in Seasonal Recipes) and a handful of fresh chopped dill from the garden.

You’ve got a” summer in Maine “ treat that screams “CELEBRATE SUMMER!”And we will, if it ever stops raining!

Chef Laura

Asparagus time in GERMANY and MAINE

It’s early June and I’ve been eating my fresh asparagus for about two weeks. My asparagus bed is now 12 years old. I never tire of it, steamed, blanched or roasted…pureed into a soup or on an Eggs Benedict.

Asparagus as we know it is the sprout of the Asparagus Officinalis, sometimes affectionately called sparrow grass. As with all culinary sprouts (think Belgian endive), this plant is all about the root system. The larger the root system the more it sprouts and produces the stalk we know and love. If left untended, the stalk grows and ferns out, creating a beautiful hedge and small red berries or seeds. Leaving it to grow is a surefire way to increase production for next season.

Growing asparagus requires a lot of preparation. It’s “like digging a grave” as an old and wise woman once said.” You dig a trench, add a lot of organic material, lay in your root bundles, spreading them out for best effect and then wait for a few years. Water, water, water. Seriously. At first all you’ll get is slender shoots, which you leave alone, but as the root systems develop that’s when the magic happens. It’s a long wait, then a short season. It’s no wonder that asparagus is known as a luxury!

Considered a delicacy in many cultures, Spargle, or a type of blanched, white asparagus is widely celebrated throughout Europe… especially in Germany. Festivals are held just to exalt the seasonal vegetable, which is often served topped with Hollandaise, with buttered boiled potatoes and cured ham. And beer… always good beer or a dry white wine such as a German Kabinett.

It is cooked and eaten in much the same way and it’s flavor is similar to the green, if not slightly more bitter. Sometimes with the fatter spears, the bottom part of the stalk is peeled and naturally there is a special tool for this. IF one cannot be found a common vegetable peeler will do.

Now, asparagus is not just a beautiful vegetable and plant. It is a powerhouse of nutrition offering vitamins A, C , Folic acid and plenty of fiber. Honestly, it always smells like it’s flushing something evil out of me, so I hope it is!

Try fresh poached asparagus in season on a smoked salmon Eggs Benedict topped with a tarragon flecked homemade Hollandaise. You can find this recipe under my seasonal recipe blog.

It’s a great reason to get up on a Sunday morning!


Laura Cabot