My grandparents lived on Bailey Island, in a house on top of a hill that led down through a wood filled with lady slippers to the old steamboat wharf in Mackerel Cove. When I was little, I sold sand dollars there to the tourists coming off the ferry from Portland. When they left, I’d stand on the rough wood planks of the pier and dream of working on one of the tuna boats bobbing at nearby moorings, see myself way out at the end of the bow pulpit, throwing a harpoon for money and food.
This was maybe an uncommon reverie for a kid from Brooklyn. But it instilled in me a love of Maine, for its beauty and bounty alike, that has never abated. I am not from the state and could not say so even if I moved to Jonesport and raised a hull and fished it hard for 30 years and won the lobsterboat races four years running. I’m a New Yorker who works for his hometown newspaper, as food editor of The New York Times.
But I have visited Maine every single year of my life, driven over the Piscataqua River Bridge in summer and winter, spring and fall, stayed for days, for weeks, for months. And I have since childhood extolled the state’s virtues and delicacies — its secret stashes of mountain snow and of blueberries, its sun-kissed mudflats filled with clams, its salt-marsh sheep, its forest venison, its riverine fish.
For a guest editor of Down East, that turned out to be very good training. I was able to work with the magazine’s actual editor, Brian Kevin, in much the way small-airplane pilots worked with the captains of the tuna boats I gawked at as a child, flying high over the Gulf of Maine on clear, calm days, to help find fish. This state has provided me with a lifetime of joy and education. I’m excited to share some of what I’ve learned and love most about it in this special issue devoted to food.
We’re delighted to have Sam on board. Find his stamp all throughout the issue, and be sure to subscribe to his excellent NYT Cooking newsletter at nytimes.com/newsletters/cooking
Some are made, fished, or foraged here. Some are all but unique to here. Others are simply the eats (and drinks) that give erstwhile Mainers a taste of home. From lowbrow munchies to local delicacies, they’re the foods that define us.
On a woodstove in an off-the-grid island cabin, guest editor Sam Sifton prepares rustic, unhurried meals that feel close to the land and sea — and a world away from the scuttle of onshore life.
Styled and Photographed by Derek Bissonnette
Though restaurant-kitchen culture is still dominated by men, women chefs have a refreshingly outsize presence in Maine. We gathered a few of the state’s best chefs to talk about why.
Interview by Jesse Ellison
North by East
A 97-year-old lobsterman can’t stop fishing, cookbooks for the ages at Biddeford’s Rabelais bookshop, and Maine’s farmers and chefs have a lot on their plates. Plus, a herd of moose-callers sets a world record in Maine Dispatches.
Food and Drink
Raising eels at American Unagi, the Miller’s Table fires up Skowhegan diners, strolling down Maine’s most diverse culinary mile, the quintessential BLT with a side of local history, and farm surplus gets canned inside a former car wash.
Good Things from Maine
The sisters behind South Solon’s Sprig Woodwork dish on their handmade wooden spoons, and Folly 101 is a feast for the eyes for Portland kitchenware shoppers. Plus, a half-dozen culinary adventures to help home cooks mix it up.
Editor’s note, reader feedback, responses to February’s Where in Maine, and more.
Jackson Laboratory president and CEO Dr. Edison Liu on his favorite Bar Harbor footpath.
On the cover: A mere 28 of our 35 Maine-iest foods. Styled by Catrine Kelty and photographed by Mark Fleming.
Additional photos: Mark Fleming; Michael D. Wilson; Gabe Souza; J.K. Putnam