Monday, December 12, 2005

Sauerkraut: For what ails 'ya

My Saturday foray into the commercial belly of the Christmas beast ended up being a major disappointment. Redemption arrived soon after, however. Sunday saw my wife and me venturing north, along Maine’s section of U.S. Route 1. With the tourists gone and apparently, many of the area’s residents elsewhere, we had downtown Bath virtually to ourselves. A trip to Reny’s allowed us to run into a longtime friend, as well as seeing us stocking up on some needed supplies We then headed out, down the midcoast corridor, towards Waldoboro.

Maine photographer and photojournalist, Cindy McIntyre (who I mentioned elsewhere), was hosting an open studio in her home. Unpacking many of her photos and prints, McIntyre set up an interesting and festive display in her Waldoboro studio. It was interesting to talk shop with a fellow author and word has it that Santa might be bringing me a copy of her book, A Century Apart; Maine Then and Now (Downeast, 2004), for Christmas.

Since we were in the vicinity of Morse’s Sauerkraut, we meandered northward along Route 220 to Maine’s only commercial producer of the German staple and longtime favorite of the Baumer clan. My grandfather used to make sauerkraut and I would eagerly anticipate the late fall ritual, when he, along with my uncle Bob, and my father, put up their supply of fermented cabbage for the winter. With only one cousin currently keeping alive the family's tradition, I learned to make ‘kraut and have put up my own supply over the past few winters. Unfortunately, the busyness of having a book to schlep around, kept me from making any this year.

Morse’s Sauerkraut has been producing this delectable treat since 1918. They have a well-stocked specialty food store at the farm, where visitors can, of course, supply themselves with sauerkraut. They also have an ample supply of sausages, pork products, cheeses, homemade pickles, Aunt Lydia’s Beet Relish, as well as a variety of German pastries and other treats.

Apparently, sauerkraut has acquired newfound interest, as it has been found to have health benefits above and beyond that which Germans and other connoisseurs have always known about the delicacy. Scientists in Seoul, Korea have found that chickens, infected with the Avian flu virus, began to recover, when fed an extract of kimchi (a Korean dish, similar to Sauerkraut). Additionally, sauerkraut may have properties that lower a woman’s risk of breast cancer. And you just thought sauerkraut tasted good, right?

With winter’s doldrums beginning to set in, now’s the time to venture out and reclaim the state’s roadways as your own. Never have the Pine Tree State’s corridors been so free of annoying tourists and other outsiders. Maine’s hidden treasures are there to enjoy for another few months before Memorial Day’s onslaught begins anew. An additional bonus of trips to places other than Cumberland and York counties, particularly north and downeast, is that one gets to experience firsthand the character and quality of Maine, the way life used to be, back before our state began to be gobbled up by wealthy land barons. Enjoy it now, before some flatlander puts up a “keep out” sign in the not-too-distant future.


weasel said...

Jim, I love Morses- sorry we couldn't join up at Cindys on Sunday.

Just one thing: "the way life used to be, back before our state began to be gobbled up by wealthy land barons"- when it was part of MA wasn't Maine essentially a series of land grants to rich individuals and institutions? Hasn't the state followed a similar pattern since- after all, all those lumber baron's mansions in Bangor weren't paid for by hard physical labor. Not to break apart the pre-industrial, pre-automobile idyll, but the right to individual property ownership in Maine has always been in the gift of large, powerful entities who chose to sell parcels to private citizens or who left the most useless land for settlers (if your garden has close surface granite ledge you know what I mean, right?). Plum Creek or Harvard University- they are all absentee landlords looking for profit.

Like I say, not trying to beat up on ya (especially if I want the chance to try some Baumer homemade sauerkraut!) but just trying to help you guard against inadvertent codgeristic tendencies to seee golden ages when none have existed for the working folk.

Color me Howard Zinn,

Jim said...

Not looking for a golden age, but I wouldn't mind returning to a time when regular folks might be able to find some affordable real estate.

Case in point--when my grandparents arrived in America (1920s), my grandfather was able to purchase a modest house in the middle of town and a sizable parcel of land on the outskirts; not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, he still could find opportunities to acquire property. I think our current situation is much more difficult in the area of housing.

I do concur that the well-heeled have always occupied the most valuable and often the most pristine areas of our state (Bar Harbor and yes, I notice those mansions in Bangor and other places).

Dittos on Zinn!!

weasel said...

But surely those ("wealthy land barons" [original post] and "my grandfather was able to purchase a modest house" [your comment] are two different (but related) things? The problem of house prices here on the midcoast is not driven by large developers grabbing virgin tracts but rather folks moving into town from away (like me- I just don't own property) and paying more than the locals can afford for pre-existing housing stock? Is it that way around Durham/Freeport, or are large developments and subdivisions going up in addition to existing stock?

Up north, where Plum Creek is sniffing around, isn't it the case that one large land owner (a paper company) has sold or is planning to sell to another large company (a resort developer)?

Anyway, whatever the reasons, when most of the work is concentrated in the bottom third of the state, most of the population will converge there and that's where folks from out-of-state (in this nation of free movement, cf all the Mainers in Florida) will end up. I mean, I could afford a house in Aroostook but come on!

Maine's brief burst of working class prosperity between the mid forties and the mid eighties was based on pollution (paper mills), destruction (warships at BIW and allied yards) and extraction (cutting down forests). Kind of a bummer, eh?

Listmaker said...

as one of those annoying tourists you speak of, i visited bath this summer and maybe it is the brooklynite in me, but i found bath strangely vacant in a way that i wasn't expecting.

where were the charming people taking walks in the evening? where were the children? where were the people hanging out on their porchrs? where was anybody? it was odd.

Jim said...

Now, now, L'Maker, notice I qualified--I'm sure you were of the class of tourists that us Mainers love and cherish--hell, there's not much else to our economy, so why don't I just STFU, right? I'm not a big Rte 1 fan in the summer, so seeing the venerable highway deserted was enjoyable, this past w/e--it wasn't necessarily intended as a screed against discriminating and dapper folks like you dropping some coinage into our state's coffers.

I'm not sure where everyone in Bath went? I wrote an article this summer on the midcoast and was impressed by the energy and vitality I found, downtown. Then again, there are a heck of alot fewer folks in Bath, than Brooklyn (a place I've never been, but have hopes of visiting at some point).

Listmaker said...


i know that you weren't referring to me. i was just being silly.

but yeah, i don't know about bath. i wasn't expecting a lot of people but we took a walk in the early evening and didn't see a soul.