North by East
Eating blueberry potato chips in Beijing, Motorcyclists sing Madawaska’s praises, and more.
Cartoon by David Jacobson
Blueberries for Beijing
The Chinese have some novel ways of enjoying Maine’s signature fruit.
Fresh, frozen, and canned blueberries are hard to come by in China, where a sour-tasting variety of the fruit grows. But the Chinese do enjoy imported berries in forms Mainers might consider unusual. Blueberry potato chips, for instance. And blueberry jam-filled marshmallows.
Patricia Kontur, director of programs for the Wild Blueberry Association of North America, discovered the odd-sounding snacks on grocery shelves in Shanghai, where she attended a trade show this past summer. She also found a growing demand for wild blueberries and blueberry products, influenced in part by the Japanese, who have become enthusiastic consumers of the Maine- and Canada-grown berries since their healthy antioxidant properties were discovered about fifteen years ago.
The association is the promotional arm of the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine, whose members are growers and processors. Maine is the largest producer of wild blueberries in the world.
Kontur did not encounter many blueberry-flavored baked goods in Shanghai other than a hand-held cake whose filling is made from blueberry powder and a blueberry jam-filled cookie. Rather, she says, the Chinese tend to get their blueberry fix from candies, including gum, gummies, pellets (think Pez), and powdered-filled straws (think Pixie Stix).
China is, in other words, a ripe market for the real thing. “The Chinese do make it difficult, however,” says Ed Flanagan, CEO and president of Washington County’s Jasper Wyman & Son, who also attended the Shanghai trade show. “There is a duty, a value-added tax, and a currency that is pegged too low. That makes it a much more expensive fruit than we know in Maine.”
Jasper Wyman, the largest wild blueberry grower in the country, is just beginning to explore the Chinese market. It already exports its products to Europe, Israel, and Japan. “Blueberry jam is the second-most-popular jam in Japan,” Flanagan reveals. “It’s probably only number ten in the United States. Blueberry yogurt is also very popular.” (According to the Web site of the International Jelly and Preserve Association, nine flavors account for more than 80 percent of total U.S. production of jellies, jams, and preserves: grape jelly and strawberry jam are the most popular, followed by grape jam, red raspberry jam, orange marmalade, apple jelly, apricot jam, peach jam, and blackberry jam.) Indeed, when it comes to blueberries, Japanese tastes seem a little more in line with our own, except, that is, for the blueberry pasta, blueberry pizza, and blueberry curry.
Hog Wild in Madawaska
Long-distance motorcyclists are spreading the County’s reputation for friendliness.
When you’re driving more than 6,400 miles in twenty-one days, the communities you pass become a blur. One town on the Southern California Motorcycle Association’s Four Corners Tour, however, is making an imprint: Madawaska.
“Several of the residents walked up to us, parked at the curb in front of the post office, and queried whether we were doing a Four Corners Tour,” Alaskan Jack Gustafson writes in one of many rider reports singing the town’s praises on the SCMA Web site (www.usa4corners.org). “This is the only place we’ve been where the locals seem to have any knowledge of this event, and they seem to embrace it wholeheartedly. Perhaps they’ve felt neglected and forgotten way up there in northern Maine, we felt welcomed and appreciated by everyone we spoke with.”
The tour challenges motorcyclists to visit the four corners of the Lower 48 in just three weeks. Riders may follow any routes they like but there is no skipping Madawaska which, as the country’s northeasternmost town, is a mandatory checkpoint. The other corners are Key West, San Ysidro, California, and Blaine, Washington, but none of them put out the welcome mat the way Madawaska (population: 4,534) does.
“When I was in Madawaska my first time, a guy in a blue pickup came over and offered to take my photograph for me,” recalls tour chairman David Johnson, who has made the circuit three times and attended the 2008 grand opening of the Madawaska Four Corners Park, the only park in the country dedicated to long-distance motorcycling. One hundred-and-thirty registered tourers (average age: sixty-two) are expected to stop at the park this year. Most have come from Blaine, the northwest corner, by way of Canada, slipping into Madawaska at the border crossing it shares with Edmundston, New Brunswick.
Contrary to Gustafson’s musings, Madawaskans’ friendliness is not a bid for attention. The warmth and hospitality of the Saint John River Valley Acadians is legendary. “Madawaska has always been family-oriented, and everyone who comes here is part of the family,” says resident Joe LaChance, speaking the French-accented English often heard in the Valley.
LaChance is the avid motorcyclist who spearheaded the campaign to build the downtown park, which has a fountain, picnic benches, and a granite monument declaring Madawaska’s unique geographical claim. It is there, rather than the post office or other institution bearing the town’s name, that riders now prefer to be photographed as evidence of their visit. Further proof is obtained at Doc’s Place service station, where riders collect a required date-and-time-stamped receipt and a uniquely Madawaskan bonus — a Certificate of Award signed by Governor John Baldacci, Town Manager Christina Therrien, and Greater Madawaska Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chad Carter.
Madawaska’s pull-out-all-the-stops welcome never fails to impress. In their travelogue on the SCMA Web site, Mark and David Lukasik tell a familiar story of being greeted by several different people upon their arrival and even shown about the small downtown by a chamber employee. “What a great place to have as the upper northeast corner!” they enthuse.
What a great endorsement of Maine.
A new wine offers an alternative to Geary’s at Maine lobsterbakes.
When a wine made from California grapes showed up on vintners’ shelves this summer bearing the name Big Claw and purporting to pair with steamed Maine lobster, more than a few local wine enthusiasts greeted it with skepticism.
But Big Claw creator and Falmouth resident Steve Melchiskey says that his wine’s name and label (featuring the state’s signature crustacean) are anything but marketing gimmicks. He notes that two dollars of every case sold goes to the Lobster Institute, an industry research group at the University of Maine at Orono. And Melchiskey — who owns Maine Coast Vineyards, a fourteen-acre property north of Portland, where he grows grapes — says his blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, colombard, and chenin blanc lives up to its bold claims.
Wine connoisseurs seem to agree. “I know ‘Big Claw’ sounds like a monster movie from the sixties, but this white from California’s north coast is anything but a B movie blend,” writes Dave Trieger, a wine blogger, remarking on last year’s batch of Big Claw (this year’s blend comes from California’s central coast). “On the nose, lychee fruit and pineapple will get you salivating, while taste buds are piqued with the flavors of just-peeled lychee and the crispness of sour apple. The result is the perfect complement for a robust lobster bisque.”
Melchiskey says he’s thrilled that the wine has not only been selling so well, but that it’s winning over Maine skeptics. “When the father of one of my youth basketball players asked me to come up with a wine that goes well with lobster, I told him that I was not going to make a tacky tourist wine,” he says, adding that the partnership with the Lobster Institute sealed the deal for him. “We wanted to support a group that was concerned not only with sustainability, but also with the lobstermen and women, because they’re so important to the state.”
We’ll toast to that.
A Camden man markets an environmentally friendly casket.
When it comes to the “buy local” movement, a Camden man is thinking outside the box — the elaborate and expensive burial box, that is.
“I’m putting into action my beliefs about resource management,” says Peter Lindquist, who launched Maine Green Casket (www.mainegreencasket.com) this past summer. “Isn’t it foolish to transport empty boxes from China, Mexico, Georgia, and lord knows where else, for burial in Maine?”
Maine Green Casket’s burial boxes are exercises in Yankee frugality and practicality. Each unpainted casket has a birch veneer plywood bottom and Maine white pine sides and top, joined with tongue and groove construction. Handles, three to each side, are made from rope. The $649 price tag is about one-third the cost of the average funeral home casket, which is typically fashioned from exotic wood or semi-precious metal and outfitted with accessories like a satin bed and brass handles. “Good lord, that’s ridiculous,” Lindquist remarks.
Lindquist says he was inspired in part by a visit to Robbins Lumber Company in Searsmont, which mills lumber from its own sustainably managed forests, and by his own pragmatic nature. Also, he comes from a family that is comfortable with planning for death. When he was a high-school senior, he built a mahogany coffin for his grandmother as a shop project. “She was thrilled,” he says. “She helped pay for the darned thing.” (There was no urgency — his grandmother lived twenty-seven more years.) Purchasing a coffin in advance, he adds, offers “an opportunity to talk about things some people don’t like to talk about. It allows a lot of other things, like talking to your parents about aging, to be brought out in the open.”
Maine Green Casket is strictly a sideline for Lindquist, who manages the sales department of a Rockland marine products firm. He hires a local carpenter to build the boxes on order. He has sold three so far, all to friends who are interested in planning ahead and avoiding the expense of a casket with fancy accoutrements they consider unnecessary.
Many people don’t realize that Maine law allows them to provide their own casket, Lindquist notes, and funeral homes are understandably not inclined to point clients in that direction. “I’m not against funeral homes,” he adds. “They are still extremely important for most of us. All I’m looking for is giving people an opportunity to interject a tiny element of control in what can be a very difficult and complicated process.”
A Sculpture, Dismembered
A painful case of vandalism strikes the University of New England.
It was sometime on Thursday, June 17, that the heist happened. Toward the back of the University of New England’s ninth annual Sculpture Garden Invitational exhibit in Portland, one statue stood between two tall pines. The piece, by artist and Munjoy Hill resident Nancy Nevergole, was entitled Yes. It was a four-foot man, largely undefined, with his head tilted back as if staring at the tops of the trees. His defining feature was, as Nevergole put it, “quite an erection.” That afternoon or evening someone unmanned him, so to speak.
“The defilement was the first and only we’ve had,” says curator Anne Zill, who has been with the museum for a dozen years. This year, the ninth year of the outdoor invitational, there are about sixty sculptures by twenty-nine artists within approximately six thousand square feet on the University of New England’s Stevens Avenue campus.
Ironically, the anatomically correct artwork had already been excluded from the official show, scheduled to open the following day. That’s because the university had requested its removal due to complaints from university workers. “If it were a straight ahead First Amendment issue, I would go to the mat for it,” says Zill.
“And I think the university would, too. The real problem is that [the sculpture] was disturbing to a few people who work here. And we have a policy not to offend the people who work here. So the administration was trying to keep our university community satisfied.”
When Nevergole arrived at the scene on Friday morning, she discovered that her statue was missing a certain something. “It had been destroyed, broken off, and was nowhere to be found,” she says. “I was beside myself.” As of this writing, the phallus filcher is still at large, but Nevergole was reimbursed for the value of the piece (seven hundred dollars).
“Was it an inside job or an outside job? I don’t know,” says Zill. “One person’s theory was that it was some fraternity boy wanting a trophy, but I doubt that was the case. We border on a cemetery. It could have been a weirdo from the cemetery or a weirdo from within the university.”
Nevergole, despite her dismay at the incident, has another sculpture in the exhibit. Aptly titled Eternal Spring, that figure’s manhood is represented by an actual mechanical spring. Of modest proportions, we should add.