Along Maine’s pristine coast, there’s a true farm-to-table heaven on earth, called Salt Water Farm. At the end of the summer, on a fantastic trip to the state I have a deep and quite child-like crush on, I visited Annemarie Ahearn’s farm/cooking school and brand new café in midcoast Maine. Lincolnville is home to the peaceful farm where fruits, vegetables, and culinary and medicinal plants grow right up on the coastline in the salty air, overlooking the deep blue Penobscot Bay. The charming cooking school is also on the farm, where Annemarie and local instructors as well as guest chefs from across the world teach classes and 3-day workshops to students seeking a precious culinary experience. Students learn how to braise over wood-fired ovens, to bake homemade bread, to pickle and preserve, to harvest plants and proteins, and so much more. Participants are encouraged to cook ‘instinctively,’ inspired by the day’s harvest from the farm, as opposed to being dependent on recipes – a value, resourcefulness, and level of connection that I honor and truly hope everyone can tap into. It’s really a beautiful way to cook and enjoy the nourishment of your creativity. At Salt Water Farm, every class ends by sharing a communal feast over the sturdy antique farmhouse table that looks as though it has sat generations of fresh, joyful, and wholesome meals. Their stated guiding principal is “life is celebrated around the table with plates of nourishing food and good friends.” Cheers to that!
Just down the road in Rockport, the bright, rustic yet refined café is situated in the historic Union Hall building, with an open kitchen, gorgeous wood and stone counters, and local artisan wares for sale. We picked up a jar of yogurt from local cows, stoneground heirloom cornmeal, and a medicinal mushroom and elderberry syrup. From the back deck, we took in the idyllic views of the boat-filled harbor on a crisp sunny morning. If you conger up the archetypical image of a summertime harbor in Maine, that’s probably just about right. Or check out my Instagram shot below. On our way out of town, we savored a simple breakfast of a perfect Spanish tortilla with chorizo and potato, served with fresh, lightly dressed salad greens, and the most delicious wild Maine blueberry buckle, that is unequivocally Maine. Ingredients came from the farm as well as local producers, as they should. I can’t wait to return and savor many more of these delicious, wholesome dishes.
Take a moment to visit the Salt Water Farm website for stunning photos of the food and spaces, and to get inspired by the cooking school’s class descriptions. You may want to start planning your trip now.
Several weeks after the trip to Maine that has stayed with me well into the fall season, Annemarie Ahearn was kind enough to answer my questions about herself, cooking, the spaces she has created, and the impressive local food that Maine and its people provide. She paints us such a lovely picture of her love of local food and community. Thanks, Annemarie!
When did you open the cooking school? What inspired you? Why was Lincolnville, Maine the right place?
July 25th, 2009. I was inspired by a little cooking school called “Cook and Taste” in Barcelona that I worked at for a couple months. Similar concept. Plus I loved teaching people how to cook. Lincolnville, Maine was the right place because my family had a beautiful piece of land there overlooking the Penobscot Bay and I wanted to turn it into a productive farm.
What makes Maine such an amazing place and community for local food?
Maine has a very strong tradition in agriculture and very progressive organizations such as the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association and the Maine Farmland Trust. It is also, still a fairly wild place where people put less of an emphasis on buying food, and more of a priority on growing it, foraging for it, hunting and fishing for it.
Which ingredients for the cooking school and restaurant come from the farm? Where do other primary ingredients come from?
We grow over 200 varieties of herbs, edible flowers, fruits and vegetables at the farm that supply the cooking school and the restaurant. Just to name a few, we grow anise hyssop, rosa rugusa, elderberries, husk cherries and apples. We also work with a number of local farms that supply us with protein and directly with fisherman and foragers in the area that bring in all kinds of interesting ingredients every day. Some of the most intriguing dishes that we offer at the restaurant are wild mushrooms (such as Matsutake, Hen of the Woods, Black Trumpets, Chantarelles), Wild American Oysters from the Damariscotta region of Maine and Water Buffalo, which is farmed about 20 miles from the restaurant up on Appleton Ridge.
What’s a blueberry buckle? I’d like to preface that by stating it’s exceptionally delicious.
A blueberry buckle is similar to a blueberry muffin, but it has quite a bit more fruit. Buckle is one of many funny old fashioned New England terms for something sweet with berries.
What’s on the menu at the restaurant today?
Well, today, we have Port Clyde Rock Crab Claws, Wisher Squash Soup, Shelling Bean Salad, Poached Bluefish and beautiful Cortland Apple Tart.
Tell us about your Full Moon Suppers. Any other special events you host?
We began hosting Full Moon Suppers in October of 2009. People loved sitting around the table with perfect strangers and eating the same thing together. Often, we would feature the farmers who produced the food we were eating, which encouraged a wonderful dialogue between producer and consumer. We’ve celebrated marriage proposals, anniversaries and friends reconnecting after many years apart.
Describe some of your most popular cooking classes.
Students love the three day workshop where we focus on fundamental skills in the kitchen and the garden. Everything from baking a loaf of bread to butchering a chicken to cooking over fire to home made ice cream. Other popular classes include Braising on the Bone, Simple Seafood Cookery, Seasonal Harvest Classes and Savory Pies. Our goal with the cooking school is to get students to cook instinctually and without a recipe. It’s about trusting yourself in the kitchen using your senses to be a better cook.
What is the most important advice you’d give a beginner cook?
Sharpen your knives.
What are your favorite early fall veggies and how do you like to prepare them?
I love cooking with a variety of winter squashes and pumpkins in the early fall. Rutabaga and celery root are also a pleasure to cook with as it gets colder in Maine, as are broccoli leaves and a variety of bitter greens.
What are cold weather-month activities at Salt Water Farm?
We take the winter to develop recipes, travel in search of inspiration and read new cookbooks. We also spend a good amount of time cooking at home with friends, sitting around the fire and going for walks in the snow with our dogs. Winter is a peaceful time for rest and relaxation. Hibernation if you will. As far as food is concerned, we eat a lot of root vegetables, cured meats and frozen meats from the fall slaughter and in January and February, folks around here love to ice fish for smelt. Also, sea urchin and Maine shrimp are wonderful winter delicacies.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Salt Water Farm is an expression of our affection for Maine, the people culture of food.