In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Maine Memory Network

Maine Eats: the food revolution starts here

Tilly Laskey, Outreach Curator at Maine Historical Society curated this exhibition along with partners and collaborators. Images courtesy of Aroostook County Historical and Art Museum, Bangor Public Library, Belfast Historical Society, Caribou Public Library, Hartland Historical Society, Lubec Historical Society, Maine Historical Society, Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media, Maine State Archives, Oakland Historical Society, Presque Isle Historical Society, Southern Aroostook Agricultural Museum, Stanley Museum on deposit at Maine Historical Society,


Explore Maine's Lobster History
Explore Maine's Lobster HistoryCarl A. Garris Jr. with lobsters, Portland, 1926

The food we eat shapes our livelihoods and identities. For generations, people have combined available resources to create a uniquely "Maine" cuisine based on iconic foods like fish, blueberries, and potatoes. Waves of immigrants have introduced exciting cultural traditions, adapted with local food sources.

Mainers understand that viable food sources are imperative to our economy and health. Innovative practices like ethical harvesting and organic farming have roots here, as do industrial inventions for canning and processing food.


EAT

Once, most people had some role in food production. Industrialization and globalization have shifted our diets. Now much of our food is produced far from home.

In Maine, fishing and farming provide local food options. Transitioning economic opportunities like aquaculture and adventurous restaurants bolster generations-old traditions like lobstering.

"Like all animals, lobsters have a range of temperatures where they can live comfortably. During the 20th Century, the Gulf of Maine was actually a little colder than a lobster would prefer. When the region began to warm, Maine became optimal lobster habitat, and the population exploded. In contrast, waters off Rhode Island became too warm, and the population declined rapidly. Climate models suggest the Gulf will continue to be one of the fastest warming regions. We expect that the lobster population will decline but are optimistic that conservation measures championed by the industry can support a vibrant fishery."
Andrew J. Pershing, Chief Scientific Officer
Gulf of Maine Research Institute
Portland, 2018


MAKE

Every human culture includes cooking. Cooking makes food more digestible and kills off bacteria, leading some scientists to theorize that humans evolved to eat cooked food.

Before the advent of canning, foods were preserved through labor-intensive drying, curing, smoking or fermenting processes. Like the discovery of fire, canning changed our lives.


GATHER

Wabanaki people foraged food from the native landscape, and cultivated corn, beans, and squash plants long before European settlers arrived in Maine.

Despite rapid changes in technologies, populations, and globalization over the past 400 years, Mainers have maintained a close relationship with our local food, whether gathered on farms or in the wild.


Prisoner of War potato pickers

In 1944, the U.S. Government established Camp Houlton, a prisoner-of-war (POW) camp for captured German soldiers during World War II. Many of the prisoners worked on local farms planting and harvesting potatoes. Camp Houlton housed about 3,000 prisoners and operated until May 1946.

Geneva Convention rules require decent treatment of captured soldiers. Houlton farmers viewed the POWs as good laborers rather than enemy soldiers, which helped lay the foundation for post-war German/American relations.

In 2002, 82-year-old Catherine Bell, who had POW prisoners on her farm, recounted, ''My brothers were over there fighting. We just hoped they were being treated as well as we were treating these boys…This is farming country up here. If you're picking potatoes, we don't care where you're from or if you're blue, pink or purple. We just care how many potatoes you pick.''

Some of the German soldiers became friendly with the people of Houlton and visited Aroostook County after the war. In 2009, Houlton declared all former POWs honorary citizens.

Wild Blueberries

Wild Blueberries are tied to Maine identity. The Wild Blueberry is Maine's state fruit, and blueberry pie is the state dessert. Long known as a staple for pies, jams and pancakes, blueberries are now used in products ranging from wine to facial lotions.

Glacial soils provide perfect conditions for blueberries to prosper in Maine. The lowbush Wild Blueberry, along with the cranberry and wild grape are the only three fruits native to North America. Wild Blueberries are a superfood with many health benefits. The USDA reports they hold twice the antioxidant power of conventional high bush, or cultivated blueberries.

Wabanaki people use birchbark baskets to collect and store food. Blueberries have been a critical food source for Wabanaki people for millenia. The Passamaquoddy Wild Blueberry Co. manages 1,000 acres of wild blueberries on tribal land. They employ 600 seasonal rakers, including tribal members, local residents, and people from other Wabanaki tribes, such as Mi'kmaq and Maliseet from Canada.


Weston Homestead, 225 years of family farming

Deacon Benjamin Weston settled on 600 acres in Madison in 1786. Weston Homestead remained in this family for 225 years. Theodore Weston (1846-1929) and his wife, Addie Bixby Weston (1850-1919), were the third generation to farm there.

The 1817 house was designed for cooking, with two winter fireplaces, an ell with a summer kitchen, and a relocated school house—known as "Addie's Kitchen"—added in the 1880s.

Outbuildings supported animals, including chicken coops, horse stable, and barns for pigs, sheep, cattle, and oxen. A shop, machine shed, granary, corncrib, pump house, icehouse, hay scale, water trough, and house for hired men kept the farm operating year-round.

Food Revolution

There's a food revolution happening in Maine. People want to be informed about where their food comes from and how it is grown. Around the state, restaurants present extensive local food choices as specific as the spot on the river or the bay where an oyster was harvested. Mainers are experimenting with locavore activities, from raising backyard chickens to growing heritage vegetable gardens.

A "foodie" culture has evolved in Maine with Portland as one of the top food destination cities in the nation. Chefs in Maine consistently top the James Beard Award lists, and restaurateurs from New York are moving to Maine and opening eateries.


Social Food

Kitchens are the universal gathering spot. A place where we prepare food, enjoy good company, welcome family, and have meaningful conversations. Kitchens are the hub of activity in our homes.

For many people, the kitchen is synonymous with family time and real conversations. As you enter the Maine Eats Kitchen, we invite you to talk with other visitors, to record your passions about food, to read and listen to the stories of others, or to share a recipe.


Eating together crosses the divides of class, language, culture, gender, age, and religion. As we consume food, we discover interconnectedness, and sometimes division.

Eating at bean suppers, fish fries, clam bakes, festivals, and grange hall potlucks is a Maine institution. After those meals, people socialized, played music, and told stories.

Religious observances often involve ritual foods—whether feasting, fasting, or abstaining from them. Sharing meals is an important part of Jewish family and community life, such as the Passover Seder, where special foods recount the story of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.