George

The Maine Harvest Festival is our favorite annual event. “Celebrating Farm Fresh,” the festival’s slogan, doesn’t even begin to describe this amazing event at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Festival Director Judy Perkins, of Garden Ridge Farm, has done a great job, expanding the festival every year.

This year’s festival featured 150 vendors, from farmers to basket weavers and earring makers. I (of course) focused on food, including delicious donuts from Elaine’s Cafe and Bakery in Milo, and lots of chocolates. My favorite, produced by Martha Bar, of Brunswick, was billed as “energy food.”

For lunch, I enjoyed crab cakes made by Harmon’s Clam Cakes, which has been producing both crab and clam cakes since 1923. While eating, I had a great visit with Steve, who directed me to their two sauces — the best I’ve ever had with crab cakes.

It took me more than two hours to make my first swing through all the aisles. I spent lots of time visiting with people, including: pasta maker Roxanne Quimby, who produces her products at Raven Nest Farm in Gouldsboro; Karen Raye, who with her husband Kevin produces my favorite mustards; and Denise Murchison, of Silverton Sporting Ranch, who offers great hunting and shooting experiences at her ranch and also produces a range of sauces.

From Wild Cow Creamery, of Belfast (offering delicious “healthy” ice cream) to samples of the gourmet meals produced by The Maine Meal in Skowhegan, this is a diner’s delight. We enjoyed talking with TV5 weatherman Todd Simcox, who was there selling his salsas.

Sister Edie joined Linda and me at the festival this year, and the two of them often moved on as I talked with people in the booths. It was inspiring to see so many farms that are prospering, including Chase Farm Bakery, in Whitefield. And the sauerkraut at Thirty Acre Farm, in Whitefield, was calling my name. Some of these farms have been in business a long time, including Luce’s, in North Anson, that has been producing maple syrup for over 200 years, and beef and pork for more than 100 years.

And here’s the really good news. Many of these products can now be found in supermarkets and farmers markets throughout the state.

Kate Krukowski Gooding’s stage show about wild game cooking was entertaining, and the Scorpion Moose Sausage Stew that she cooked on stage and served to all of us was very tasty.

Linda, my sister Edie and I passed up the beer tasting and crossed the street after the festival to enjoy the wonderful beer at Geaghan’s Pub.

Linda

This was the seventh year of the Maine Harvest Festival, and the show just gets better and better. It is really a showcase of the ingenuity and creativity of Maine people. Festival attendees are welcomed warmly by all of the vendors, and it does indeed feel like a celebration.

Food sampling is a must here. And what a wide variety of offerings there are. Jams, salsas, dips and spreads, and jarred pasta sauces feature Maine fruits, vegetables and herbs. This is the place if you are looking for local sausage and cheese.

I sought out the Smith’s Log Smokehouse booth, from Monroe, for their smoked mozzarella cheese because I bought some two years ago and it made the most incredible pizza.

I stopped by the Wholesome Homestead’s cheese booth, which was doing a very brisk business. Karen Trenholm is the cheese maker, and a classmate of mine from Winthrop. Sister Cathy and her son, Tom, were manning the booth, and her daughter and husband worked the day before. This is a real family venture.

Handmade hats, mittens and socks, pottery, wooden bowls and many other crafts make this the perfect place for nonedible gifts too. Shoppers love having quality Maine products all available in one venue. And it just feels really good to know you are supporting hardworking Maine people.

Edie Smith

The phrase “Rural Maine” often depicts scenes of shrinking populations, poverty, despair, lack of innovation. All you have to do is attend the Harvest Festival, in Bangor, to put those scenes right out of your head. Rural Maine is celebrated at the Harvest Festival — and rightly so.

It doesn’t get much better than seeing amazing displays from farms; local foods made from local gardens and critters (try the goat cheese blended with wild blueberries and cranberries — a taste of heaven); handcrafted Maine wood products; homemade jams and sauces as far as the eye can see; and a row of Maine’s own microbreweries and wineries.

I spent two days at the show this year gaining at least 5 pounds, and can blame that purely on sampling items as I walked along the festive aisles, one delicious booth to the next. Homemade ice cream, deep-fried donuts, exotic pasta, flavored tea and homemade needhams made with real Maine potatoes were just the tip of the iceberg.

But get this: The food and crafts aren’t the best part. It’s the people. The people of rural Maine who fill their trucks, vans and U-Hauls, bringing their fares to Bangor to celebrate their heritage, their Maine ingenuity. They want to share their pride in what they do and what they love. It’s well worth the extra 5 pounds.

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed by town in the “Best of Maine” section.