Fall Food Preview: Okay, Vacationland, it's our turn

Enjoy peak harvest without the crowds
By LEISCHEN STELTER  |  September 15, 2010

BOX-UCOPIA. Fall produce at the Deering Oaks farmers’ market.
Goodbye tourists. Goodbye school children. Thanks for spending this gorgeous summer with us and keeping our restaurants and businesses thriving. We know your dough keeps many of us employed, but, frankly, we’re ready for some distance.

Perhaps we’ll see you again on your way back from apple-picking and leaf-peeping, but for the next few weeks Maine is wide open to those of us who braved summer traffic jams and regular denials from our favorite restaurants for attempting to dine on a weekend night without a reservation. But it was well worth the aggravation, because these next few weeks promise all those things that tourists come to Maine for — and more.

Last Saturday, the farmers’ market at Deering Oaks Park was bustling, and for good reason. Brad Messier, who sells produce for Fishbowl Farm, says right now is “the ultimate smorgasbord of the harvest season.” Last year, Messier worked at the Bowdoinham farm trying to save plants from drowning in a summer of nearly non-stop rain. This year, it’s been the opposite. And now is the time to take advantage of an amazing harvest season. “There’s a two-to-three week period in September where we have the full spectrum of summer vegetables and fruits and we’re just starting to get the first taste of the fall stuff,” he says. At the farmers’ market you can find summer treats like tomatoes, cucumbers, and watermelons right beside cold-weather veggies like beets, winter squash, and pumpkins.

And if you love the farmers’ market, you must absolutely check out the upcoming Common Ground Country Fair in Unity on September 24-26. A Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association event, it’s an assemblage of organic farmers selling a variety of locally grown produce and agricultural products. “The fair is symbolic of wrapping up the summer and it’s the final big hurrah,” says Messier. “For farmers, it’s an end-of-the-summer get together and a celebration of the growing season.”

For the rest of us, it’s an opportunity to sample a wide variety of all that Maine farmers and producers have to offer. In addition to food — raw and prepared — the fair also features a variety of locally produced arts and crafts as well as a whole range of livestock exhibitions. If you’ve never seen a log-scooting competition using massive oxen or a demonstration of a sheep dog herding live mutton through a narrow metal gate, frankly, you’re missing out. For those who are more interested in learning than spectating, the fair also offers a number of agricultural demonstrations, farming and gardening workshops, and information on energy-efficient products and techniques.

But farm life isn’t for everyone. You can stay right here in Portland and still see how Maine farmers’ work translates to a good portion of your dining-out experience. The first fall Maine Restaurant Week was just scheduled for October 24-31 and will likely feature a variety of seasonal creations by local chefs. In case you missed the spring event this year, for one week, restaurants feature three-course prix fixe menus priced at $20, $30, or $40. At the March event, nearly 100 Maine restaurants participated, and while it hasn’t been announced what local establishments will partake this fall, that momentum could mean even more restaurants signing up in the fall. Plus, it’s a good, economically sound excuse to try a new restaurant that you maybe thought was out of your price range. And, instead of jockeying to secure a reservation from an out-of-towner, you’ll be up against your neighbors. Come October, we’ll all have forgotten what that’s like.

Leischen Stelter can be reached atleischen@gmail.com.

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  Topics: Food Features , food, restaurants, harvest,  More more >
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