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.
Pick a light and bone-dry white wine for this drink, such as Sauvignon Blanc, dry Riesling, Pinot Grigio or Albariño. Though these wines aren’t local to Maine, they embody the minerality of granite that gives this cocktail its nod to the rocky shores of Schoodic. If spruce tips aren’t in season where you are, you can get them from a number of foragers who sell freshly picked spruce tips online.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Additional time: 1 hour
Makes 4 drinks
Spruce Syrup Ingredients
- ½ ounce fresh, or 1 ounce frozen, spruce tips
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 2 cups crisp, dry white wine
- ½ cup spruce syrup
- 1 cup plain seltzer
Make the spruce syrup:
- Add the spruce tips, sugar and water to a small (1-quart) saucepan.
- Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
- Simmer for 1-2 minutes, then cover and let steep for at least 1 hour to infuse the syrup.
- Strain the syrup through a fine mesh strainer before using in the cocktails. Compost the spruce tips.
- You’ll have about 1 ¾ cups of syrup, enough for three rounds of cocktails, plus a little extra. The infused syrup will keep for up to one month in a refrigerated, sealed jar.
Make the cocktails:
- Fill four 10-ounce lowball glasses or stemless wine glasses halfway with ice.
- Pour ½ cup wine and 2 tablespoons spruce syrup into each glass. Top each glass with ¼ cup seltzer and stir gently to combine. Sip responsibly.
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.
Making a lobster roll only requires a few ingredients, the most crucial being fresh lobster meat. So go the extra mile, if you can, and pick it yourself from a whole steamed lobster. Beyond that, a toasted and buttered split-top bun is the classic vessel. I grill my lemons before squeezing them into my mayonnaise to add a touch of smoky flavor.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Makes 4 lobster rolls
- 4 lobsters (approx. 1 ¼-pound each), cooked, or 1 pound picked lobster meat
- 1 large or 2 small-to-medium lemons, quartered
- 2 large scallions
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
- 4 split-top hot dog buns
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- Kosher salt
- If using whole lobsters, pick the meat out of each lobster and place in a large bowl. Chill until ready to assemble.
- Preheat an outdoor grill or griddle, or an indoor grill or griddle pan, over medium heat.
- Brush the lemons and scallions with the oil, then grill for 1-2 minutes per side, until char marks appear. Remove from heat and let cool.
- If using an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan, lightly spread the butter across both sides of the buns. (If using an outdoor or indoor griddle, melt the butter on the griddle surface. Place the buns on the griddle, turning to coat both sides in the melted butter.)
- Toast the buns on the grill or griddle for 1-2 minutes per side, then open fully and toast the centers for 1 minute more. Set aside.
- Chop the scallions and mix with the mayonnaise. Squeeze the wedges of lemon through a strainer to catch any seeds, then mix the juice into the mayonnaise.
- Stir the flavored mayonnaise into the lobster meat. Taste and add a pinch of kosher salt as needed.
- Divide the lobster meat between the 4 rolls and enjoy immediately.
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.
This flatbread recipe is one of my go-to foods for road trip sustenance. It can be made in a cast-iron skillet or on a griddle pretty much anywhere, whether it’s a rental kitchen or a campsite. And it’s a blank slate for any local delicacies you happen to pick up along the way, like fresh Maine blueberries. Chances are you’ll be making this with frozen berries, but there’s a bonus to using them: The juice from the thawed blueberries can be whisked into a vinaigrette.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Makes 4 flatbreads
- 1 cup fresh or frozen Maine blueberries, thawed
- 2 tablespoons + ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 8 ounces (½ pound) chevre or other soft, fresh goat cheese
- 2 loosely packed cups mixed baby greens
- Flaky Maine sea salt
- Wild honey
- Strain the thawed blueberries and reserve the juice in a bowl.
- Whisk the blueberry juice with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the vinegar. Set the blueberries and dressing aside.
- Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl.
- Add the yogurt and olive oil, and stir with a spatula until the dough starts to come together in shaggy clumps.
- With your hands, knead the dough in the bowl until it’s a smooth ball. Divide into 4 pieces.
- Preheat a large cast-iron skillet or griddle over medium-low heat, whether that be on the stovetop, an outdoor grill or a fire pit.
- On a clean, floured surface, roll the dough out one piece at a time. It doesn’t have to be a perfect circle or oval; just roll out to whatever shape best fits your cooking surface.
- Place each flatbread on the skillet or griddle and cook for about 2 minutes per side, until blistered and puffy.
- Spread the chevre across the flatbread.
- Toss the mixed greens with the dressing and top each flatbread with about ½ cup of salad.
- Sprinkle the blueberries over the flatbreads, then garnish with pinches of sea salt and a drizzle of honey. Bon appétit.
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.
Smoked dulse flakes add a hint of outdoorsy campfire flavor and oceanic salinity to this classic pasta dish. Get Maine-harvested smoked dulse from Maine Coast Sea Vegetables or Vitamin Sea Seaweed.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Makes 4 servings
- 1 pound littleneck clams (about 24)
- 1 pound blue mussels
- Kosher salt
- ¾ pound (12 ounces) linguine or fettuccine
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 small lemon, zested
- 1 cup dry, crisp white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc, dry Riesling, Pinot Grigio or Albariño
- 1 large handful flat-leaf parsley leaves (about ¼ cup), chopped
- 2 teaspoons smoked dulse flakes
- Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
- Bring a large (8-quart) pot of water to a boil.
- While the water heats, rinse and scrub the clams and mussels with a bristle brush to remove any exterior grit. If the mussels have any errant beards (little grassy fuzz) sticking out of their shells, yank those off too.
- When the water comes to a boil, add a large handful of salt, then stir in the pasta.
- While the pasta cooks, heat 2 tablespoons butter and the olive oil in a medium (3- to 5-quart) Dutch oven or deep-sided sauté pan over medium heat until the butter has melted.
- Add the garlic and lemon zest. Cook for about 1 minute, stirring occasionally, until fragrant.
- Add the white wine and bring to a simmer.
- Add the clams and mussels and cover the pan. Cook for about 8 minutes until the clams and mussels open, transferring the opened shellfish to a large bowl. (Discard any stubborn clams or mussels that don’t open.)
- When the pasta is nearly al dente but still a touch undercooked, drain and set aside.
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter to the pan with the white wine broth, then stir in the pasta. Cook for 1-2 minutes more until the sauce is thickened and coats the pasta. Taste and season with more kosher salt if necessary.
- Divide the pasta between 4 bowls and top with the clams and mussels, distributing them evenly amongst the bowls. Alternatively, you can remove the clam and mussel meat from the shells and toss with the pasta.
- Garnish each dish with parsley, smoked dulse and black pepper. Enjoy.
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.