Lobster Days of Summer
Welcome to your classic Maine guide to afternoon fun outside: A lobster bake how-to, summer cocktail recipes, “red snappers” and other Maine must-haves, lawn games, and backyard camping. It’s high time for the berries and boats, cookouts and lazy days, and diving into warm-weather traditions whenever you’re inspired, and wherever you are.
Year-round Mainers know they need to grab summer whenever they can. That’s why, with just a day’s notice and banking on a forecast for a sunny Saturday, a group of Portland-area friends and family joined with some of the staff from Maine for a day of food, drinks, and fun. It was late summer last year—a spontaneous, bring-something-to-share celebration of the season.
There were red hot dogs for grilling and lobsters from the closest pound, corn on the cob, and potatoes for the steam pot. Traditionalists in the crowd scoffed at first when one of the guests, Cherie Scott of Mumbai to Maine, suggested cutting some of the steamed lobsters in half and topping them with butter, spices, and herbs to finish cooking for a few minutes on the grill. (The delicious extra step quickly won over new fans.)
The party stretched from lunchtime to sunset. The lovable canine guests were tempted by the ubiquitous food on tables and grills. Kids making s’mores debated whether to stop cooking the marshmallows when brown or char them black in a poof of flame. Eventually those of us who forgot to bring flashlights and stayed past nightfall had a tricky walk back to the cars.
Here’s what we learned: We love to gather, no matter if it’s two people, four, or more. In a pinch, a never-used paintbrush works great for brushing melted butter onto grilling vegetables. A folding table makes a fine buffet or bar, and canning jars are good for anything from cocktail glasses to candleholders.
Most of all, whether on the waterfront or in the backyard, what’s important is getting together when possible, and adding as much laughter and play as you can. And we don’t need studies to know that being in nature helps to reduce stress and keeps us healthier.
Campfire and a cold drink, anyone?
BRING ON THE DAY
Tick-tock, Maine’s got the long summer days on lock. The lengthiest days are around the summer solstice in the third week of June—nearly 15½ hours of sunlight each. Daylight hours still span more than 14 hours in July and more than 13 hours in August. If you wake up early, summer days can feel almost like getting two days in one. Hello, sun!
Check the forecast for sunshine, but no matter the weather, from now through at least October Maine’s milder months are made for cookouts and campouts. Roll out the RV or air out the tent if you have one. (Especially for kids, even camping near the house is an adventure.)
To make the most of it, you’ll then want to rally the guests—two people or more makes it officially a party—gather the gear you have on hand, and shop for the food and drink you’ll share.
Start your shopping with these Pine Tree State products we used for our lobster bake and cookout:
• Lobsters and steamer clams from the nearest seafood market or lobster pound (many offer overnight shipping for those outside of Maine)
• Farmer’s market vegetables for the grill, berries from a roadside stand (or pick-your-own farm), corn on the cob, red potatoes, and fresh herbs: parsley, cilantro, rosemary, basil, and dill
• Kate’s Homemade Butter (from the company founded in Old Orchard Beach), for melting over corn on the cob and dunking lobster meat
• Spice blends from one of Skordo’s shops in Portland and South Portland, for a different take on grilled lobster
• Bottles of white or other wine from Oyster River Winegrowers in Warren
• Allagash White beer from Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, for shandies
• Maine Root sodas for those who don’t drink alcohol
• Fox Family Potato Chips, made in Aroostook County’s Mapleton
• Maine “red snapper” hot dogs from Bangor-based W.A. Bean and Sons, which ships around the country
• Maine maple syrup to sweeten cocktails and iced tea
• Ice Pik Vodka, distilled just over the border in New Hampshire
Along with stocking up on plenty of alcohol-free options, here are some summery party cocktails to mix and sip in the sunshine.
This one’s a thirst quencher, and it’s super easy to make. Simply pour equal parts Allagash White and lemonade (Maine Root Lemonade is a good choice) in a tall glass, and garnish with a lemon slice or wedge. That’s it. Points for dramatic pouring!
First, find your cocktail shaker. The name is a play on Bloody Mary, but this cocktail’s all about berries. To make it, muddle ¼ cup blueberries or raspberries (or both) with a sprig of rosemary in your glass, then add ice. Fill the cocktail shaker with ice and add 2 ounces of vodka, 1 ounce of lemon juice, and a splash of simple syrup. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds, then strain into your ice-filled glass and top with soda water. Garnish with berries and a rosemary sprig.
Rum Riot Mojito
While enjoying this one, you can muse about the Portland Rum Riot that broke out on June 2, 1855. It was a spirited revolt in opposition to a nineteenth-century Maine law that prohibited the sale and manufacture of alcohol. To make, muddle several mint leaves with a splash of maple syrup in a canning jar or old-fashioned glass, then add cracked ice, 1 to 2 ounces of dark rum, and the juice of a small lime. Fill with club soda, and top with sprigs of fresh mint.
A sure sign of Maine’s summer is the tangy-sweet abundance of berries. On a hike, there’s nothing better than finding and picking a handful of trailside berries. If you’re seeking local berries at farm stands or other markets, here is when to look for them:
Strawberries: Late June to mid-July
Blackberries and wild (low-bush) blueberries: Mid-July through August
Raspberries: Mid-July through early September
THE MAIN EVENT
For a traditional Maine lobster bake, a wood fire would be built in a hole dug into a sand beach, and the hot coals would be topped with seaweed then lobsters, clams, and potatoes for a long, slow steam. Using a large steamer pot on a propane burner will do just fine, though, and it is faster. Each cook will have their own techniques and variations, but here are general directions for our favorite method:
- Add a couple of inches of salted water to a deep lobster pot. If you’re at the coast, scoop up fresh seawater and fresh seaweed to use. If not, add salt until you have water that tastes like the sea. Bring to a steady boil. Add the lobsters headfirst and steam until the shells are bright red, about 12 to 15 minutes.
- If there’s room in the pot, you can steam the whole potatoes, clams, and corn on the cob in the brine, too. The corn will finish quickly, so remove the cobs first, or add them in the final minutes. If the potatoes are still firm, leave them in the pot until done.
- If you’d like to finish the lobsters on a hot grill, cut them in half lengthwise, brush the meat with melted butter, and cook, flesh side down, for 2 or 3 minutes. Flip them over and cook flesh side up for about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, brush the flesh with more butter (or pour some into each shell), and sprinkle with parsley, cilantro, or whatever fresh or dried herbs you like. (A variation of this technique is described in the 2017 cookbook The Lost Kitchen by Erin French, who has a restaurant of the same name in her hometown of Freedom.)
- When done, arrange everything on a bed of seaweed on a platter and bring to the table with melted butter in small pots or bowls for dipping. Grilled vegetables and quartered lemons are good accompaniments, too. And make sure everyone has a cold drink, claw cracker tools (nutcrackers work well), and plenty of paper or cloth towels. Then it’s time to feast!
LAWN PLAY LIKE A PRO
At the 1884-founded Claremont Hotel on Mount Desert Island, summer afternoons are made for croquet. Volleyballs are lobbed over the net near the spruce woods at the New England Outdoor Center in Millinocket. Horseshoes are tossed at Migis Lodge on Sebago Lake and at the classic Birches Resort up in Rockwood. And at a couple of the big, log-built camps on the shores of Rangeley Lake, the most popular lawn game is bocce. But whatever you have, whether a football to toss or a soccer ball to kick, bring it to the party. Summertime is game time, so let’s have a ball.
STARGAZING THIS SUMMER
Cap your summer party with some stargazing. A dark nighttime sky is all that’s needed (although a telescope can help), and Maine has the least light pollution of any state on the eastern seaboard. Particularly good nights to step outside and look up this summer include:
July 5: Full moon
July 12 to August 23: Delta Aquariid meteor shower (peaks around July 28)
August 3: Full moon
August 11–12: Peak of the Perseid meteor shower
September 2: Full moon