Fall hiking in the Blueberry State
Can you remember a more spectacular September in our Colorado mountains? This year, the aspen graced us with a dazzling and long-lasting show of color and the Indian Summer days invited us to take long hikes and stay outdoors until well after dark…we couldn’t bear to see it end. So, we asked ourselves, “Where could we go in October to find great fall foliage, good hiking, and natural beauty?” After a bit of research, the coast of Maine proved to be the answer. The trees were just starting to turn color there and it’s a hiker’s paradise. We were delighted to discover that a trip to Maine would also offer us a special bonus: it’s the wild blueberry capitol of the U.S., producing more wild blueberries and recipes for using them than anywhere else. By going there, I could pursue my insatiable interest in baking and Michael could do the same for his insatiable interest in devouring any baked good that contains blueberries, a perfect match.We flew into Boston, rented a car, and headed north on Route 1, the coastal highway. Our first stop was in Kittery, Maine’s oldest town. It was a preface to all the coastal towns to come: so quaint it might be a Disney theme-park, with beautiful old homes, gorgeous gardens and more deciduous trees changing color than we could imagine; reds, oranges, golds, browns and even pinks and purples were everywhere. We had our first lobster and our first piece of wild blueberry crumble at a local restaurant, Robert’s Maine Grill. The chef was kind enough to share the recipe for this tasty blueberry treat and their secret for zesting up the blueberry filling – add a small amount of fresh cracked pepper. If we’d turned around and come home after that meal, the trip would have been worth it. The next day we headed up the coast, stopping for lunch at Moody’s Diner, a spot known throughout the state (what Beau Jo’s is for pizza in Colorado, Moody’s Diner is for down-home cooking in Maine). Yup, you guessed it…we scarfed down a wild blueberry pie and some blueberry muffins…superb! And, we got to meet the 77 year-old pastry chef, responsible for Moody’s endless string of awards for pie making. Arleen Eugeley took a few minutes from her task of making 80 pies a day (and 200 over Thanksgiving) to talk with us about Maine blueberries and her 20 years making Moody’s famous pies. Her secret for a flakey crust – she uses lard in her dough.By evening we arrived in Camden, a beautiful, sophisticated little harbor town where we spent five days hiking, eating and taking in the sights. Low mountains rise from the shoreline, creating a setting that is extremely picturesque. Hiking trails abound, most of them characterized by good uphill treks and expansive views of the ocean and harbor at every turn. To make sure we didn’t miss any possibilities, we joined a hiking tour sponsored by the Wayfarer’s, an upscale travel company specializing in walking vacations. They attended to all the details so that we could focus on hiking, eating and the local culture. We’ve hiked with Wayfarer’s before and knew we could count on fine food and pleasing accommodations. Our leaders, Jory Squibb and Jean Forest, were both from the area so they knew the region’s wildlife, plants and history and they shared with us what it feels like to be a Mainer. They introduced us to some wonderful hiking trials and some good blueberry desserts. Our favorite hikes were in Camden Hills State Park, where they led us up Mt. Megunticook and Mt. Battle. Both of these are steep trails, requiring us to scramble up granite outcroppings to be rewarded by 360 degree views, taking in miles of ocean, lovely lakes and rolling hills beautifully painted by trees in their fall colors. Our favorite recipe was one that Jean makes often for a simple blueberry cake. Her advice? Skip the cinnamon that’s included in many recipes for blueberry pastries, the taste detracts from the fruit.While still based in Camden, we took a ferry from Port Clyde to Monhegan Island, a huge piece of granite barely one mile square that is 11 miles out to sea. A small group of hardy Mainers live there year round, some of them are artists, others fish, and all enjoy a stark lifestyle dominated by the ocean and the whims of the weather. The island is indescribably beautiful, with surf breaking on high rock cliffs, wild beaches and a thick, pine forest interior that is magically quiet and lush. We hiked the area, in total awe, and caught the last ferry back to the mainland.We followed Jory and Jean from Camden to Mount Desert Island, located about two-thirds of the way up Maine’s shoreline. This large island is made up of mountains, lakes, meadows, forests, marshes and the only fiord in the Eastern U.S. About a dozen villages dot the coast, some are fishing towns or tourist meccas while others contain summer homes for the wealthy. Acadia National Park makes up about two-thirds of the island and is the reason we spent five days in the area. Wow! This is a national treasure; we’re so fortunate that it’s been set aside and preserved! In Acadia we hiked and scrambled up Day Mountain, Penobscot Mountain and Cadillac Mountain, which, at 1530 feet, is the highest point on the Atlantic Coast north of Rio de Janeiro. Don’t be fooled, hikers, despite their seemingly low elevations, these are challenging climbs that require the use of your hands to maneuver through the steep, rocky sections. We were equally delighted to walk along the magnificent carriage roads that lace the park, a gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr. This 57-mile network of perfectly maintained, broken-stone roads has become a haven for mountain biking since the roads are only open to hikers, bikes and horse-drawn carriages. The stone bridges along the carriage roads are absolute works of art. Several of Arcadia’s hiking trails and Carriage Roads meet at the Jordan Pond House where we had lunch and feasted on popovers (no blueberries here), a tradition of the park for over a century.We hated to leave Acadia; it would take months to enjoy all it has to offer. But, we headed home, grateful for this delightful 11-day extension of our September in Colorado. We returned with a deep appreciation of Maine’s beautiful coastline and exquisite fall foliage, fond memories of our hikes there and quite a few new recipes for blueberry pastries. Vera and Michael are full-time residents of Summit County. Vera writes the baking column published in the Summit and Vail Daily papers.
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