Baker Pamela Fitzgerald Plunkett is known for her painted flower cookies. Photo courtesy of Pamela Plunkett

Fans of local baker Pamela Fitzgerald Plunkett will be happy to hear she is back to building her own business, selling her signature painted Scottish shortbread cookies as well as layer cakes and pies.

Plunkett and her husband James closed their 6-year-old South Portland bakery, Little Bigs, in January 2019, and she went on to work as a baker at Monte’s Fine Foods on Washington Avenue in Portland. Plunkett is still associated with Monte’s, but said she has taken on more of a consulting role, trouble shooting issues for them and planning pizza-making classes.

Plunkett said she has the pandemic to blame (thank?) for the most recent shift in her career.

“Having less traffic (at Monte’s), a little more time to spend at home, I really started rethinking the way I wanted to live my life,” she said. “I’ve been schlepping 50-pound bags of flour for 30 years. I just started thinking, ‘How can I create a more peaceful life for myself?’”

She delivers her cookies, pies and cakes for free in Portland with a $50 order, and she offers shipping. She also hopes to get some of her treats into shops. Steve Quatrucci, owner of Monte’s, already buys a few dozen of her cookies every week, she said.

A more unusual offering on her menu is pilot crackers. Plunkett was already making oyster crackers when a Little Bigs customer told her about pilot crackers and their historic importance as a staple in New England pantries. She sells them for $6 a dozen.

“I think I’m one of the only people who still makes them,” Plunkett said.

Cheese for families in need
Hannaford Supermarkets has committed to purchasing $10,000 of Maine milk for Pineland Farms Dairy to turn into 7,000 pounds of cheese for the Good Shepherd Food Bank.

The cheese will be distributed by the food bank’s Mainers Feeding Mainers program at 48 sites that are fixing meals-to-go for hungry families, 10 shelters, and 134 school pantry sites. The partnership will also help support Maine dairy farmers.

Pineland Farms staff preparing cheese for shipment to Good Shepherd Food Bank. Photo courtesy of Pineland Farms

Kristen Miale, president of Good Shepherd Food Bank, said she was “beyond ecstatic” to receive the donation.

“Before COVID, approximately 180,000 Mainers relied on our network of more than 500 partners every year and 1 in 5 Maine kids were food insecure,” she said in a statement announcing the partnership. “On a normal day, we provided more than 68,000 meals. For our neighbors already facing food insecurity, COVID means the very real danger of lost wages, further difficulty accessing enough food, and an increased reliance on the charitable food network. Add onto that the school closures and job losses, and we know that even more Mainers will be struggling.”

Pineland Farms had previously donated 25,000 pounds of cheese to Good Shepherd in partnership with the Libra Foundation and the Dairy Farmers of America.

Speaking of cheese…

Since the start of the pandemic, Maine creameries have banded together to help cheesemakers stay afloat by offering contactless delivery, more online shopping and better wholesale options.

The pandemic has hurt artisan cheese sales nationwide. Here in Maine the situation was made worse by the cancellation of the 2020 Maine Cheese Festival, which was the Maine Cheese Guild’s largest source of funding and a big source of income for the state’s cheese makers, as well.

Eleven creameries are now participating in Maine Milk Mavens, a wholesale distribution business that links grocers and restaurants with Maine cheesemakers, according to Jessie Dowling, owner of Fuzzy Udder Creamery in Whitefield and president of the Maine Cheese Guild.

The Mavens send out a newsletter with a list of available cheeses and pricing. Once a restaurant or grocer places an order, the Mavens pick up the cheese from all the creameries on that order, deliver it, and collect payment. Instead of 10 different cheesemakers descending on a single restaurant or grocer to do business, Maine Milk Mavens streamlines the process “so the cheesemaker doesn’t have to do anything other than make the cheese,” Dowling said.

“It’s minimizing contact, meeting that need of elderly cheesemakers who couldn’t leave their homes because it’s not that safe for older folks being out and about,” she said.

For the cheese-buying public, there’s localgoodsgathered.com, a new website that offers a variety of options for buying local cheese, including hard-to-find cheeses from creameries in distant corners of Maine. Consumers can pick up the cheese or get it delivered.

The Dayboat Collection features a one-pound box of cheeses from three rotating Maine creameries.

The Maine Artisan Cheese Box is a monthly subscription – kind of like a cheese CSA – that includes three cheeses (1 ½ pounds per box), plus other local products such as crackers, honey and preserves. Prices range from $49 to $249, depending on the length of the subscription.

The third option is a Victory Cheese box, part of a national effort to boost the cheese industry during the pandemic. The boxes contain 2 ½ pounds of Maine cheese, from five cheesemakers, for $75. Ten percent of the sales go to the Maine Cheese Guild.

Open Farm Day goes online

Maine Open Farm Day, which will be held – kind of – on Sunday, was supposed to have more than 200 farms participating in honor of the state’s bicentennial, according to Anne Trenholm, agricultural programs coordinator for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Now, Trenholm said, while a few farms might do something small to celebrate the day – and farm stands should still be open – the state is encouraging Maine residents to go online for a virtual farm experience instead. Participating Maine farms will be loading videos online showing behind-the-scenes activities at their farms and other information on social media. For a list of participating farms by county, go to getrealmaine.com/activities/open-farm-day.

If you’re planning to visit a farm, Trenhom suggests you call first to check on hours – they may have changed – and any safety precautions the farm requires because of the pandemic.

Two Open Farm Day events that are definitely not happening: the 4 ½-mile Springvale Farm Walk, which normally begins at McDougal Orchards and passes through nine farms before ending at Rivard Farm, and the bike tours that traditionally visit farms in Bowdoinham, Richmond and Topsham.


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