For the last several years I have pilgrimaged to Maine each August to cook at Caravan Music Festival in Belgrade Lakes. My affection for the state is no secret. Every year I long to frolic in brisk lakes, gorge myself on pristine sea food, and reconnect to a state of peace and tranquility. Since befriending my accomplice Badger, his family, the Mansers, have welcomed me into their cabin in Belgrade Lakes year after year.
This year I arrived in Maine mid-September and fresh from a 7 hour solo drive from Pennsylvania through one my favorite parts of the country. Up the Yankee Highway, through the pine lined forests of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire and I finally entered Maine. I was greeted by my eccentric friend Davis at his homestead in Alna, southeast of my usually destination of Belgrade Lakes. Davis showed me the kitchen in his partially renovated farm house where we would be working out of for our pig roast and his larder, bursting at the seams in preparation for winter and my room just off the dining room. I asked if I could accompany him on his morning chores as milking the goats was one of my favorite rituals in California. Greeting the crisp morning with hungry and eager animals always puts me in a good mood and I knew my soul had been craving it.
I heard Davis barreling around the kitchen at 5am and knew it was time to tend to the goats that were already hollerin' outside my window. I sipped tea as I observed his routine, trying not to get in the way and admiring the light over his neighboring fields that kiss the Sheepscot River. There was salt in the air. We fed and milked his miniature goat Louise who had had two bucks that spring. I remembered how nervous Davis was for the delivery when we were plotting the event over the phone earlier that year, now here the boys were, screaming for food, butting heads and clowning around. We headed into the lower field to feed the chickens and the last pig that remained in his herd, as our pig was had been slaughtered the day before and was already brining. We finished chores and harvesting, ate the biggest sourdough skillet cakes I have ever seen and set off for the oyster boat at Pemaquid Oyster Company.
It was early morning and the light was still captivating as it glittered on the Damariscotta River. We met Davis's boss, Carter, on the dock and asked if I could join the crew on their morning ride, he happily obliged. We hopped on the 'Oyster Girl' and headed out to the sorting docks just up river.
Once again I observed and tried to stay out of the way while the guys set up the lines and baskets for sorting. Carter drove the boat seemingly aimlessly up and down the river as we towed the nets behind us and he answering business calls for his many endeavors in the bivalve world, joking that it was his office hours.
Carter lifted out the first haul and the boys unlatched the chains. A bounty of oysters, crabs, seaweed, horseshoe crabs and rocks splattered out on the steel table before me.
"You can concentrate on pulling out the crabs" suggested Carter with a smirk. According to the boys, the crabs weren't good eatin' and messed with the oyster's growth.
I separated out the feisty crabs from the oysters and reserved them in a bucket where they would later be disposed of. We sized up the oysters, put them into according baskets and got ready for the next haul. We did this repeatedly for about two hours, the boys taught me lingo and Davis passed me bites of that mornings left over sourdough skillet cakes.
We were then joined by Smokey, Carter's business partner of 33 years and a local photographer named Heather, who was doing a piece on the company. We staged some shots of the oysters being dropped, played with lighting screens and laughed at the silliness of the situation.
Smokey suggested I go for the along for the tour down river with Heather to see the rest of the oyster beds. Carter gave me a mesh bag and told Smokey to make sure I took home some oysters in exchange for my hard work. I loved these people. We scoped out the oyster beds down river and Smokey open a few oysters for us and I was smitten. I was excited to work with their bivalves at the pig roast.
After being dropped ashore I ventured around Damariscotta collecting various goods for the pig roast. I stopped by Davis's friend Austin's farm to pick up some of his cabbage and onions. The brilliant man has been farming the area for decades and taught Davis' a thing or two when he first came to Maine.
I was excited to finally cook with Davis after 3 years of working together on pig projects. The extent of our friendship was limited to parking lot exchanges of a slaughtered pig once a year and a handful of phone calls throughout the year to see how the pigs were fattening up and to shoot the shit. Caravan was one of the first entities to buy Davis's pig and his pig Olivia was first whole pig I had ever butchered. It felt like everything was coming full circle. I had also long admired Oxbow Brewery, as it has a large connection to Philadelphia. Since I had started heading to Maine for Caravan I had heard of the 'loud beer from a quit place' and after seeing my pig being raised on the property 3 years earlier, I knew I wanted to work with them.
I snuck away to Belgrade Lakes for lunch with the Manser men and to pay my respects to the Caravan stage I had so missed back in August. We enjoyed the porch overlooking the Great Pond and headed into town for the mandatory lobster roll.
As I drove around the winding backroads between towns, I admired the soothing hues of green in the woods. I kept seeing apples littering the roadside. It had been a relatively dry summer and the apples were abundant. When I headed back to Alna to prepare for the event and it occurred to me that we should make use of the wild apples. We had already ordered some fennel to stuff the pig with and the apples would compliment them well. I gathered a bushel from several roadside trees around Oxbow.
I got back to Alna with the produce and got ready for the night of prep we had before us. We were to camp out at Oxbow overnight to make sure the pig went off without a hitch. We pulled in the smoker that Davis had borrowed from one of his friends and speared the pig. The pig had been brining in salt and spices and after we settled the pig to the smoker, we closed the enormous door and finished prepping the rest of our menu.
Davis and I rolled out dough for bread and checked on the pig every so often. Before we called it a night, we checked the pig one last time and realized the smoker was doing one hell of a job. In just two hours the legs were already starting to fall off the bone. We tasted the meat and were thrilled with the flavor.
I posted up in my hammock for the night above the Oxbow Tiki Bar and Davis slept next to the smoker to make sure it was set for the night. When we woke up the pig was cooked to perfection.
We set up our kitchen in a U shape, with Davis's red pickup truck bed as the mussel station. We were fortunate to have Davis's friend Melissa Hunnibell join the crew last minute as she had suspected we might need the help. Melissa, a restaurant vet, held my hand and organized my thoughts as I attempted to write out the final menu on the chalk board, floundering on little sleep and struggling with verbiage. We all got along like old friends in the kitchen, laughing as we clambered to figure out the flow of the kitchen and our call and response ordering and pick up system.
We served a taste of Land + Sea, Pemaquid Oysters on the half shell or 'al cochon', an oyster baked with pulled pork (an amazing combination we had discovered the night before) Pemaquid Mussels steamed with Oxbow Beer, a Pulled Pork Sandwich on Davis's freshly baked buns (which he finsihed baking at 2am) Blueberry Slab Pie with an Apple Cider Caramel I had made with Louise's milk, and some simple Golden Raspberries grown by Austin. We had a wonderful response to the food, with locals showing approval. We made the local paper and even farmer Austin made an appearance, apparently a rare sight. I was honored to pull him off the farm and to feed him his bounty that made our food that much more special.
In true Caravan Family fashion the Manser men took a break from fishing to come show their support. Posted up on the side of pickup truck next to our kitchen they slurped mussels, and gobbled up pulled pork as we reminisced about Caravans past. How lucky I am to have them on my side. The guests slowly started to leave and the remaining crew built a fire near the tiki bar. We swam in the pond behind the smoker and admired the full moon making its way through the trees. We soon got back to it and packed up all the remaining food and headed back to the farm house to take inventory.
Beer Steamed Mussels
serves about 2-4
1 pound Mussels
1 bottle dark beer
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons butter
A handful pulled pork, optional
3 large sprigs parsley, chopped
In a large sauce pan, caramelize onions with a bit of butter, about 10 minutes. Pour in beer and scrap up the bottom of the pan. Add mussels, garlic, butter and pork (if using) and cover with a lid for about 5 minutes or until the mussels open. FInish with chopped parsley and serve with a piece of crusty bread.
2 pounds Bone In Pork Shoulder
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
3 tablespoons Salt
1 tablespoon crushed Red Pepper Flakes
Mix all ingredients and generously rub onto shoulder. Set aside.
2-3 bottles of beer
1/2 head cabbage, chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 bulb fennel, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Chop vegetables into large 1/2 inch chunks and set aside. In a Dutch oven or large cast iron, heat a heavy pour of olive oil and add prepared pork shoulder until golden. Add vegetables. Pour in beer. Place uncovered in oven. Cook for two hours or until tender.
1 cup reserved braising drippings
1-1/2 cup apple cider
1-2 cups ketchup
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1/4 cup Mustard
3 tablespoons Soy Sauce
3 cloves Garlic
Remove shoulder from braise. Drain vegetables and place remaining juice in a gravy separator. The jus and the fat will separate. Pour off as much fat as possible and reserve. In a medium sauce pan heat pork jus on medium heat. Add all ingredients while constantly tasting. Adjust flavors to your liking. Simmer until thick. Pour atop pulled pork. Serve immediately.
Blueberry Slab Pie
makes a crust and topper
470 grams good flour
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tbsp salt
340 grams cold butter, diced
3/4-1 cup cold water
Mix flour, sugar and salt. Add butter and knead. Slowly add water until dough is smooth. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours until firm.
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup water
6 cups fresh blueberries
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice & zest
In a saucepan, combine all ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes or until mixture reduces and thickens. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350. On a floured surface, roll out prepared dough. Roll out dough to cover a parchment paper lined 10 x 15in cookie sheet (or similarly sized). Push the dough up the sides of the cookie sheet to create a crust. Pour filling on to sheet. Roll out remaining dough and cut into lattice strips or simply cover with another sheet of dough.
1 egg yolk
A splash water
2 tablespoon demerara sugar
Mix together water and egg yolk. Brush a top crust. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Allow to cool before cutting into squares.
The next morning we ventured back to Oxbow and I packed up my campsite. We cleaned up the remaining odds and ends from the event and talked about how happy we were with the event and agreed to do it again soon and parted ways. I was grateful for the hard work Celeste and Davis had put forth in planning the event at Oxbow and for Melissa for helping on the line. I could not have done it without them.
I headed back north to Belgrade to swim in the Great Pond last time and take a boat ride with the Mansers'. We motored along the water and I admired the view. Clark cast his line and I lounged in the rear of the boat, feeling the exhaustion from the pig roast setting in. We watched the sun set over the hills and headed back to land. The Great Pond had worked its magic. I then headed south again for Pennsylvania, enjoying the scenic drive back to my home state, plotting my next adventure in the great state of Maine.
Pork + Beans
2 cans (28oz each) kidney beans
1 can (28 oz) cannellini beans
3/4 cup tomato sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup pork stock
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
In a large sauce pan, add beans, tomato sauce, garlic, stock and heat over medium heat. Once bubbly, add maple syrup, brown sugar, mustard and red pepper flake. Cook until thick, about 10 minutes. Serve with Pork Belly or Pulled Pork!!