The Perfect Maine Summer | Summer Eats
Memories around food can often be some of our most vivid. We recall our experiences with some of Maine’s iconic summer meals.
When I was growing up in New Hampshire, lobster was a treat reserved for summer camping trips to the coast of Maine. Once we settled in at our campsite, it wasn’t long before I asked my parents which night that week we would have our annual feast. On a particular trip when I was nine, we planned our lobster dinner for halfway through the week, so we could eat with our neighbors from back home who were camping nearby. That morn- ing, though, I woke up sick. I was nauseous, feverish, and miserable. Cooped up in the tent all day and night, I listened tearfully as my family and neighbors devoured one of my all-time favorite meals without me.
By the end of the week I felt better, except for one thing—I hadn’t had my Maine lobster. My parents, knowing my devastation, knew they had to correct the injustice. We got in the car and drove until we found a lobster shack. My parents bought me a huge lobster, and that night I had my own lobster feast.
I don’t remember what the rest of my family ate, but I remember the meaty lobster claws and thick tail that I devoured, soaking it all in warm butter. The fire roared in a fire pit nearby, the picnic table was littered with pieces of bright red shell, and the ocean crashed on the shore in the distance. The night was the epitome of my childhood visits to Maine and the perfect way to end our camping trip. Since our camping trips, a summer hasn’t gone by without eating lobster, and I don’t envision one ever passing without it. —Kate Gardner
Summer in Maine is special for many reasons, but backyard barbecues are essential. A few things always seem be constant in my favorite backyard barbecue memories. The air is hot, but not sticky. The sun is working its way towards the horizon, and I’ve kicked off my shoes for some one-on-one time with the grass. Everyone’s laughing and catching up with one another, while the self-proclaimed “grill masters” prepare tools and ingredients. A buffet of food on a glass-topped patio table includes all-you-can-eat pasta, potato, and broccoli salads. Vegetable kebabs line the upper half of the grill for guests avoiding meat, and someone is trying to get my attention to ask the most consequential question of the night: “Do you want cheese on your burger?” Friends and family are scattered across the lawn, and the youngest people of the group are usually playing some form of tag. In a backyard barbecue, generations come together to enjoy the summer sunshine and some hotdogs. Besides a cold drink, what more do you need?
In my earliest memory of a backyard barbecue, I learned how to climb a tree with a close family friend. During other barbecues, I’ve done nothing more than sit back, enjoy a glass of wine with my aunt, and watch everything unfold before my eyes, making the most out of summer while it’s here. As you reminisce on your favorite summer nights, maybe a barbecue isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But for me, some of my favorite memories were made sitting on a deck in a loved one’s backyard. —Emma Simard
Maine hosts 25 official agricultural fairs from midsummer to the start of fall, and with the exception of one (we’re looking at you, Common Ground Country Fair), much of the food is prepared with oil in quantities not commonly found in home kitchens. Along with the large- scale agricultural fairs, there is no shortage of community festivals throughout the state with vendors serving up much of the same fried and grilled food.
Growing up in Hallowell, my community festival was Old Hallowell Day, which is held annually on the third Saturday in July. Compared to other town festivals, there is nothing unique about Old Hallowell Day—it begins with a parade in the morning and features a craft fair, a 5K, various competitions, and ends with fireworks. But as kids, we gave it the same reverence as Christmas morning and Halloween night.
Many kids who lived in Hallowell were allowed considerable freedom—our only limit was the amont of cash our parents gave us for food. And that freedom tasted so good. Fried dough. Italian sausages. Corn dogs. Onion rings. Sugary lemonade in colorful, deceptively narrow to-go cups. In a time when none of us had heard of trans fats, the world was our oyster—and it was deep-fried.
Nowadays my fair food consumption is less frenetic but no less enjoyable. Fried dough served on doubled-up paper plates is still one of my favorite dishes (in competition with Boda’s quail eggs and Long Grain’s sticky rice). Each time I go to a fair and smell the fried food, I remember being a boy and the sense of wonder inspired by backlit signs advertising onion rings and lemonade. —Paul Koenig
Maine Italian Sandwich
I only recently learned that this delicious sandwich was invented right here in Portland in the early 1900s by Giovanni Amato, founder of the Amato’s sandwich chain. He created it as an affordable meal for workers on the wharf, using ingredients readily available year-round and late into the season. Despite not knowing this important fact of sandwich history, I have been devouring these wonderful sandwiches since I was a toddler.
The Maine Italian consists of American cheese, thin slices of deli ham, sour pickles, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, and black olives laid onto a fluffy white sub roll with a dash of salt, pepper, and oil. The ingredients serve to counterbalance one another, creating an appetizing balance of flavors and textures. I was taught at a very young age that you don’t get a choice in how it’s made, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Growing up in Maine, I have fond memories of this simple-yet-flavorful submarine-style sandwich. It’s a summer favorite for my family and friends—a convenient and filling meal. Whether on our way to the beach or after a leisurely bike ride around Saco, it’s something we always order. When I left Maine for college, I didn’t realize how much I would miss this sandwich and its ubiquitous availability. Friends and family who have left will always order a Maine Italian sandwich when they visit. There’s just something about this simple meal that brings a sense of home to people. I don’t know why, but I do know nothing beats the original Maine Italian sandwich—and no substitutions, please. —Sarah Prak