Maybe the cole slaw was so incredibly tasty because I was eating it outside; it’s often said that food tastes better outside. I happened to be near the ocean, so perhaps that old saw about salt air whetting the appetite is true, too. In my other hand, I held a lobster roll, plus I’d just slurped a local oyster.

All this summer-in-Maine gustatory gratification came after the personal satisfaction of having biked 50 miles. Fifty miles! Way to go, Peggy! I was very hungry. Or maybe, it was just really excellent cole slaw, no matter the circumstances of the eater.

Whichever, I wanted the recipe and intended to use the power of the press to get it. I called Patti Hamilton, food director for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, also Maker of the Cole Slaw for the Lobster Ride & Roll, an annual fundraiser for the coalition that sent some 1,000 cyclists on routes of various lengths in the midcoast this past Sunday.

When she isn’t cooking and coordinating meals for coalition events (also the weeklong Bike Maine in September and the Maine Women’s Ride in June) or doing similar work for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Hamilton farms (organically) in Whitefield – her farm is called Hamilton Farm and Barred Owl Creamery. She has no formal training in cooking. (Q: So you didn’t, say, attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park? A: Oh gosh, no.) She always liked to cook for her family, then volunteered at the Common Ground Fair. “I cooked home fries. A lot of home fries. I got talked into becoming a coordinator. And then it evolved.” Today, she is kitchen coordinator for the fair.

The coalition website describes Hamilton like this: “Patti is a long-time cyclist, has traveled to more than 38 countries, and homeschooled her children, all while maintaining a wonderful sense of humor.” (Probably necessary in her line of work, we’re thinking.)

We chatted with her about cooking for crowds, large hungry crowds, about Cuisinarts and in what way she resembles a daffodil.

And yeah, we got that recipe.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How does one make cole slaw for, what, 1,000 people?

A: Nine hundred. I can tell you exactly how many servings I made. It wasn’t quite enough, because we ran out at the very end. I think the last 40 people didn’t get any cole slaw. I just start chopping. Some people help me chop the cabbage – there were three of us chopping.

Q: Wait, you chop this by hand for 900 people?

A: Well, it tastes better. One (person) had a Cuisinart. I prefer not to use a Cuisinart, because it makes it a little watery. The dressing is a recipe, but the rest is not a recipe. I put on rubber gloves and I pick up what I think is a serving and I count. Every time I add something, I count: Okay, there are 20 servings of carrots. There are 20 servings of kale. Okay, it needs a little more red, and I add a little more red (bell) pepper. When I left Saturday night – we were prepping up at the high school in Rockland (Oceanside High School, where the Lobster Ride starts and finishes) – we only had 788 servings. So I came home and I picked more kale and more cabbage and I brought it until I got to 900. It’s always hard to judge. Some people don’t want it at all. Some people want more than one serving. With that number you never know. And I don’t really want tons leftover.

Q: The ingredients are from your farm?

A: Pretty much. When I plant, that’s my goal to cater with things from my farm. All the cabbage was, all the kale was and all the cilantro. The carrots and the red pepper were not. My carrots are just too small and my red peppers were not red yet.

Q: Do you serve this same cole slaw every year at the lobster ride or switch it up?

A: The Lobster Ride every year I’ve done it – three or four years now – it’s the same cole slaw. When I came, they already had a tradition going: the lobster roll and the cole slaw. They used to use packaged cole slaw. I said, ‘Oh man, I’ve got this great cole slaw recipe. It’s light. It’s refreshing. (Eaters) don’t even realize they are eating kale.’ Now, after reading this paper, they’ll realize they are eating kale.

Q: How many people decline the lobster roll?

A: I find it a little bit surprising, just on a personal level: How could somebody not want a lobster roll? A rough guess – 800 eat the lobster roll and then 50 and 50: 50 tuna rolls and 50 vegetarian lunch.

Q: That lettuce on the lobster roll – is that heretical?

A: In my mind, the lettuce is mainly there so the bun doesn’t get soggy and to add a little crunch. I personally never made lobster rolls before I started doing this. I just want it as fresh as possible and as much as they can fit into the roll without it falling apart.

Q: You must be quite organized.

A: I think I am. I can cook for 900, and the food is ready when it should be. I don’t know how. I have good luck. I guess.

Q: Is feeding hungry riders different from, say, feeding guests at a wedding?

A: Yes and no. Not specifically for this event. It’s just a day event and they are all going home. I do think they want to have carbs as soon as they are done. And there are certain nutritional requirements that I think about. But I think of those things more with Bike Maine. They are traveling for a week. Their only food is through us, and it builds up. The Bike Coalition takes care of the riders really well: proteins, carbs, fruits, vegetables. They have everything anyone could want. It’s like the circus – (each night) we come in a big refrigerator truck. We set up the circus. We’re there for a day, then we pack everything up and move onto the next town. When we get there, there is nothing. Then there’s a whole village and the next day there is nothing again.

Q: How do you coordinate these events in late July and September while running your farm? It’s the peak of the season, isn’t it?

A: (She mock screams. Twice.) It’s hard. Every year, we have apprentices, well we have an apprentice. The last three years it’s worked out that the apprentice is gone before Bike Maine starts. I milk, and I have a creamery. So I just have to dry up my animals. My husband is here, and he does a lot. He’ll take care of the chickens and the goats. He doesn’t milk. I’ll dry off the goats and sheep, and he’ll take care of everybody else. It’s a lot of work for him because he is working full-time. He was excited this year – he was planning to ride, but I said, ‘You talked the apprentice into going to college, so you’re not going on Bike Maine!’ Last year’s Bike Maine ride was up here by my house, so that was really convenient. Every other day, I would go home and milk real quick. So it worked out. It always seems to work out. I do as much as I can beforehand, and then I just let go. I look forward to October when I get to sleep again. I’m kind of like a daffodil. Busy busy busy in the summer and then hibernate in the winter. Something like that.

Gauge the amounts of vegetables based on the number of people you are feeding. Multiply the dressing as needed. You can chop the vegetables up ahead of time. If you do, Hamilton suggests tossing the carrots with a little rice vinegar to keep them from browning. Once you dress the cole slaw, she says it’s best served right away.

Serves: Up to 900(!)

Cabbage – mix of green, red, Napa and Chinese cabbages
Red bell pepper
Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon sriracha (or other hot sauce)

To make the cole slaw, shred the cabbage. Grate or chop the carrots. Dice the red pepper. Chop the kale into small pieces. Combine all in a bowl.
To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a jar and shake until emulsified. Toss the slaw with the dressing. Chop the cilantro and add. Sprinkle the cole slaw with toasted sesame seeds.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.