Flavors of Acadia
The dishes one food writer dreamed up during a residency in Maine’s national park.
On the trail, many people dream of burgers, beer, ice cream or any number of out-of-reach treats. I experience these cravings too, trust me, but as a food writer I also have some wilder fantasies because I see and smell ingredients all around me. So this summer, during my artist-in-residence gig at Acadia National Park, I gave my epicurious heart free rein. My husband and I spent two glorious weeks exploring the park, from tiny Isle au Haut to the rugged Schoodic Peninsula. While the nearby farms and roadside diners sparked my curiosity, it was the smaller moments — pressing my palms against warm granite as the Atlantic Ocean crashed nearby or pausing beside a sunlit fern on a wooded trail — that really got my creative juices flowing. Inspired by these sensory experiences, I crafted a host of dishes to evoke the flavors of Acadia.
SCHOODIC WHITE WINE SPRITZER
Expanses of granite boulders and canopies of pine and spruce envelop you from the moment you turn off Route 186 onto Schoodic Loop Road, the 6-mile scenic drive that encircles this part of Acadia. These trees and rocks, imposing sentinels of Down East Maine, became welcoming beacons of home during our two weeks of living at the Schoodic Institute at the tip of the peninsula. The coastline view from the curving road to Schoodic Point, shot through with gold in the setting sun, nearly brought me to tears every evening, no matter how familiar the sight.
In homage to our time on this magical peninsula, where the scent of pines meets the minerality of the rocky shore, I reimagined the landscape in cocktail form. Simmering fresh spruce tips with sugar makes an intensely flavored syrup that plays against a flinty, mineral-forward white wine. It’s a simple spritzer that tastes like the essence of Schoodic.
ISLE AU HAUT LOBSTER ROLL
On our last full day in Acadia, we clambered to the summit of Ebens Head, a craggy bluff overlooking Isle au Haut Bay on the western side of this small, sparsely populated island. A rainbow of buoys punctuated the vast blue expanse while the last lobster boats of the day sliced white lines across the water.
As I often do when in Maine, I thought about the millions of lobsters in the unseen depths below. Seeing those boats on the water and knowing the lobstermen have been out since first light always gives me a greater appreciation of what it takes to get that crustacean onto the plate or into a roll. When lobster is in its freshest form, it doesn’t have to be fancied up too much. A dab of mayonnaise and a pop of citrus are all I need to give my lobster meat the royal treatment it deserves.
BLUEBERRY SALAD FLATBREAD
I got a tip from an Acadia ranger that the Beech Mountain Trail on the western portion, or “quiet side,” of Mount Desert Island was lousy with blueberries, one of the few wild foods that visitors can forage within park boundaries. And indeed, lowbush blueberry shrubs blanketed the sides of the trail as we wound our way up the mountain, their foliage thick as a carpet laid over the rocks and pine needles.
Maine’s short and sweet blueberry season had yet to arrive, so I wasn’t able to experience the caviarlike pop of a handful of fresh berries on our June hike. Instead, I picked up a bag of frozen blueberries at Beech Hill Farm just up the road from the trailhead. Once the blueberries had thawed, I tossed them with baby greens and herbs to make a luxuriously leafy bed mimicking the verdant bushes on the mountain and piled the salad atop a freshly griddled flatbread.
CLAM AND MUSSEL PASTA WITH SMOKED DULSE
My husband and I were the only two people picking our way across a land bridge of sea-slick rocks, shells and algae to reach an island off Acadia’s coast on a sunny summer morning. The briny funk of seaweed drying in the sun, salty spray on the breeze, and fleeting whiffs of pitch pine and spruce filled my lungs with each deep breath. Below my boots, shells and rocks crunched with each step. Periwinkles, whelks, mussels and barnacles intermingled with olive-green clumps of rockweed and kelp ribbons.
Though clams prefer the sandy beach flats found elsewhere around Acadia (the Wabanaki name for Bar Harbor is Moneskatik, or “the clam digging place,”), I always associate them with other bivalve brethren. If I see mussels, I’m usually thinking about clams, too … and how much I love to eat both of them in garlicky white wine sauce and pasta. With a dusting of smoked dulse flakes, the dish is a sensory trip back to the coast.
About the author
Casey Barber is an East Coast storyteller and artist who never hits the road without her cast-iron skillet. See her 2022 Artist-in-Residency project, “Maine Ingredients,” and more of her work at caseybarber.com.