The Land of Raw Milk and Honey

For Memorial Day weekend, Michael and I escaped the city and headed North to greener pastures. In Portland (ME) we met up with three of our good friends, two from Philly (Scott and Cara) and one (Genna) our hostess, before driving out to the cottage we would call home for a few days, which is in the town of Warren. Along the way, we made stops at a few shops and markets, adding to the bounty in the backseat that Genna had purchased for our weekend. Our rations were roughly this:
  • a dozen duck eggs
  • 1/2 gallon whole raw milk
  • 1/2 gallon 1% pasteurized milk (which never did get opened)
  • yogurt
  • fiddlehead ferns
  • ramps
  • chives
  • lamb sausage
  • asparagus
  • red lentils
  • bacon
  • 1 loaf of sourdough bread
  • 1 loaf of potato bread
  • strawberries
  • raw honey
  • maple syrup
  • coconut oil
  • and beer, at least 9 750ml bottles
I am sure I missed at least one item, but look at that! All of these were from local sources, either from Genna’s co-op or from the Rosemont Market that we visited. We were to live like country kings, locavores of the southern midcoast. 
We also, being the beer enthusiasts that we are, paid a visit to a local brewery in Newcastle called Oxbow. Open only on Friday afternoons from 2-6pm for tastings and growler fillings, the brewery operates on an 18-acre piece of land out of a beautiful, one-room barn with vaulted ceilings and painted depictions of its owl logo. We were greeted by the head brewer, his girlfriend, and a few of their friends gathered around sampling the brews. It was an entirely intimate and inviting atmosphere. The air was filled with the aromas of wheat and fermenting yeast – beer in all its simple glory. To our right were the large brew kettles and fermentation tanks; to our left was an assortment of wooden barrels containing the still-fermenting cask beer that was not yet ready for a taste. But we did get to try 3 brews: the Farmhouse Pale Ale, the Space Cowboy Country Ale, and the Freestyle Five Black Wheat Saison. As we sipped, we chatted with the brewer’s gal about the operation, which has only been in business since August 2011, and how at not even a year old the guys are making a name for themselves. The popularity of the beers was evidenced by the string of locals that continually filed in for their weekly fill ‘er up. Friendly folks passionate about beer, great tasting brews – these guys are on their way up! We strolled out of there with a growler of the Freestyle Five, ready to complete the last leg of our journey to Warren. 
Looking out on the water, foggy Friday eve

Situated on Crawford Pond, the cottage was an oasis of serenity. Living in Brooklyn, one tends to forget what true silence sounds like. Here there was peace and quiet, save for some crickets and a pair of loons. Upon our arrival on Friday night, it was foggy and there was a chill in the air. We unloaded the car, met the lady of the house/property, and hurried up to her backyard garden to harvest some fresh rhubarb before dark.

Rhubarb flowers

Afterward, joined by another Haverford buddy, we cooked ourselves a dinner of fiddlehead ferns, massaged kale salad, and tomato/potato/red lentil soup. It warmed us on the unusually chilly late May night, though we still needed to start a fire in the wood-burning stove in the center of the room, which we piled high to last through the night.
In the morning, Michael and I were in charge of breakfast — over-easy duck eggs and bacon, apple slices, sourdough toast, jam and honey. The only time I had eaten a duck egg was as a part of a duck paella at a restaurant, but I had never had my own duck eggs. Dear friends, they were somethin’ else. Nearly twice the size of chicken eggs, these eggs had sturdy shells that took an extra effort to crack cleanly. Once dropped into the pan, it was clear what was adding to their heft: bright round yolks, marigold in color and spectacularly sized. We let the creamy liquid sunshine run all over our plates and decadently sopped it all up with hunks of crusty bread.

I also indulged in a glass of raw (unpasteurized) milk alongside my toast. Before we arrived, when we had spoken to Genna about what she’d be getting food-wise, she mentioned raw milk and asked if we liked it. I had never had raw milk, so she kindly offered to purchase both pasteurized and unpasteurized. To me, “raw milk” sounded very foreign, I could already taste its (imagined) funky flavor in my mouth. But on Friday evening, as Cara and Genna sipped some of the rich milk, I was convinced to try it and, boy, had I been mistaken. It was delicious! Thick and wholesome, it was the purest milk I had ever tasted. With raw milk, duck eggs, and raw-honeyed toast on my breakfast table (after trying fiddlehead ferns the previous night for the first time), my food horizons were expanding right out in front of me.

Sailboats on the horizon, Rockland ME

After a stop at Hello Hello Books in nearby Rockland, which is run by a friend of Genna’s, we spent time walking along the beach front, dipping our feet in the water, and skipping and/or sinking rocks. The weather had turned around from the foggy, drizzly Friday and it was quite hot in the sun! Especially so for us, who had suited up in long sleeves, pants, and socks for a hike planned for the afternoon, determined to keep as much skin as possible hidden from ticks and mosquitoes. While in Rockland, we stopped at Sweets and Meats to pick up supplies for a picnic lunch that we would take out to Aldermere Farm. In addition to my delicious goat cheese, red pepper, and cappicola sandwich, I strolled out of there with a jar of Maine wild blueberry jam, one of my goals for the trip.

At Aldermere, we visited with a group of Belted Galloways as they munched on their lunch of grass and we ate our sandwiches. These cattle, as Genna told us, hail originally from the highlands of Scotland. This came up on Friday, as we drove the winding roads through foggy hills and fields, when Scott remarked on how the terrain reminded him of the British Isles. The Belted Galloways have a distinguishing white “belt” around their otherwise black bodies and they thrive in the Maine climate, so similar to their homeland. Genna discussed how this farm and these cows are part of a movement to revive or preserve different breeds of cattle, and to raise them in the environs appropriate for each breed. She mentioned how that ubiquitous black-and-white Holstein that we all identify as THE cow can’t possibly survive in all climates. If we concentrate only on that one breed, we will end up with unhappy, unhealthy cattle and, consequently, damaged farmland and poorer quality meat. That struck me as very interesting and important.

das Kühchen

We said goodbye to the cows and piled back into the car and headed for the hills! Well, we headed to our hilly hiking route. Doused in Deep Woods Off with our pant legs tucked into our socks, we hiked over rocks, past blueberry bushes, and up to the top of a promontory that showed us a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean and the Maine Islands. It was, in a word, beautiful.

Back at the cottage, we raced to get into bathing suits and into the lake for a dip before dinner. Genna beat us all and hurried out into the yard. Before we knew it, Liz, the owner of the cottage and Genna’s colleague, was inside and rushing back out with a bucket of water. Genna sliced her foot on the lawn on the way to the water and it was pretty bad. It had to have hurt immensely, but she barely let on just how much. In the hours that Genna was away getting patched up at the hospital, we waited anxiously to hear any news. We made dinner: crumbled lamb sausage and asparagus coupled with bowls of our leftover lentil soup from the night before. Scott and I (mostly Scott) also made the first of 3 strawberry rhubarb pies to be ready for Genna’s return. She came hobbling in on crutches shortly before 11pm and regaled us with her tale of the emergency room as we enjoyed slices of pie. She is quite a trooper. 

The next morning I made cornmeal pancakes (which I later learned are called johnnycakes). I loved them! And I hope the others did, too. I finally found a pancake recipe that thrills me. Seeing as I used up the last tablespoons of butter in the cakes of the pan, I used coconut oil for the first time to grease the cast iron griddle. It lent a bit of its own flavor to the outsides of the pancakes, which were marvelous with some of my blueberry jam and maple syrup.

Johnnycakes on the griddle

Stack of ‘cakes
Photo credit: S.S.

Our trip out to town that day was for restocking our groceries and purchasing the lobsters we were to make for supper. For these, we swung by Jess’ Seafood Market. Five lobsters and half a dozen ears of corn in all. And Scott

A friend of Genna and Mike’s, named Scott as well, drove in from Portland to pay a visit in the afternoon, bearing gifts of home brews. He shared with us a delicious and pleasing hefeweizen and a flavorful (an “irresponsible amount of hops) IPA. Old friends caught up, new friends were acquainted, and we took to the canoes in the late evening sun.

Joined by our weekend neighbors, we cooked a dinner of lobster, steak, grilled corn and 2 more strawberry rhubarb crumble. We all ate down at the lakeside picnic table, laughed together, smacked mosquitoes in chorus, and shared in the last moments of the daylight.  Relaxed, carefree, idyllic living.

Photo credit: S.S.
Photo credit: S.S.

Photo credit: S.S.

Photo credit: S.S.
It may seem that much of this vacation centered around food. And that may be true. We are a group of people who enjoy and value both preparing and eating good food. It is a central force of life. Meals are the hinges upon which the rest of lift swings. The trip was, in this sense, reminiscent of my childhood summers and vacations. It was a time that we had extra time and amazing, fresh ingredients on our hands. A chance to spend as much time together as possible and to collaborate on meal creations and to be happily sharing in the moment.

Photo credit: S.S.

In the morning, Scott treated us to a duck egg and chive scramble, with two types of cheese. We tidied and packed up, and began saying our goodbyes to our temporary abode.

Photo credit: S.S.

As we drove away, I reflected on the days we shared and promised myself a return one day to the quiet, country life.

A last sunny view, upon departure

A special thanks to Scott for his beautiful photos, some of which I used in this post. This man has a way with the camera. Check out more of his work at The Aural Fixation.

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