Christine Burns Rudalevige tops her Summer Berry Pudding with whipped cream at her home in Brunswick. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Before I started writing this Green Plate Special column over nine years ago, I had a token understanding of what it meant to eat sustainably. And I mistook the prospect to be a restrictive, borderline rigid way of making my food choices.

For example, I used to be under the impression I should consume no fruit out of its rightful season, a season that is so very short in these climes. That I had to always pay certified organic prices for my vegetables. That all red meat was bad for the environment. That national third-party seafood grading systems were sacrosanct. And that processed foods should be avoided at all costs.

I have since, in my shopping, cooking, and in the pages of this newspaper, explored the day-to-day nuances of eating green that make the process seem wide open. For example, there are myriad ways farmers can extend Maine’s growing season and cooks can preserve fruit (freezing, canning, salting, making syrups) at the height of the season so it can be enjoyed year-round.

Now I know the importance of chatting with local small farmers about how they grow vegetables and tend to livestock in ways that differentiate their products from the conventionally farmed products in the grocery stores, and I make my choices accordingly. I know to tap local seafood buying guides maintained by local scientists, Gulf of Maine conservancy organizations, and groups that support Maine fishermen for nuanced information about sustainable local catches.

And foods comprising local ingredients – flours from Maine grains, sausages from local meat, sauce from invasive crabs, and cheese, glorious cheese, from cow, sheep, and goat milk are all processed foods that are good for both my body and the local food economy.

I have learned all those things, for sure. But the very best green eating skill I have honed, the one that lets me dig my heels deeply into a sustainability mindset, is simply being flexible.


Being a flexible eater means you eat what is seasonally available, of course. But furthermore, you let Mother Nature dictate just what “seasonally available” means. Should a crop that is typically available get hit with an environmental shock, say, a blueberry crop was damaged by a late frost or tomatoes were delayed by eight straight weeks of rain, a flexible eater knows to be pleased with a bumper crop of raspberries and the fact that weather conditions mean beets are on offer at the market until the end of July.

Being a flexible shopper means going to the market with a general idea of what you need for the week – say three green vegetables, a local fish fillet, a pastured raised pork item and something pretty to put in a vase on the table. That general mindset, as opposed to one that says you will get asparagus, broccoli and green beans, a piece of halibut, bone-in pork chops and a bouquet of purple irises, opens you to buying what the farmers can actually offer you on any given day.

Being a flexible cook means having a repertoire of recipes that can accommodate a variety of ingredients in the same way with equally satisfying results. For example, Lidia Bastianich’s Escarole and White Beans Soup is an excellent recipe when followed exactly as written. But if your farmer doesn’t have escarole or there are no white beans in your larder, know that you can use that well-known formula for any hearty sauteed greens and beans combination, like spinach and yellow-eyed beans, collards and black beans, or kale and chickpeas.

As I sign off as the author of this long-running column – I’ll be on sabbatical for a year and writing just once a month from Europe – my parting culinary advice is this: Stay flexible for the good of your local food system, your health and your palate.

Summer Berry Pudding Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Summer Berry Pudding

This is a bright, berry-filled dessert I first tasted when I lived in England in the summer of 2007. That rendition came frozen, in a box from Waitrose supermarket. We thawed it out in the fridge and ate it with Bird’s custard powder, which is a mixture of corn starch, annatto coloring, salt and flavoring that, when simmered in milk, forms a thin vanilla-ish pudding. I adapted this recipe from one that appeared in Martha Stewart Living magazine that same year. I’ve changed it up to be a bit more flexible. You can easily halve it, and make it in a smaller bowl, to accommodate fewer eaters. I like to serve it with freshly whipped cream.


Serves 6

2 cups hulled and quartered strawberries
1 cup fresh or frozen sweet or sour cherries, pitted and halved, plus more for garnish
2 small red plums, pitted and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/2 cup local honey or maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon vanilla paste
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup mixed fresh raspberries, blueberries or blackberries, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup fruity liqueur, such as Cointreau or St. Germaine
1 loaf Pullman white bread or brioche (about 1½ pounds total), crusts removed, bread cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
Whole strawberries, cherries, and sliced plums for garnish
Mint or basil sprigs for garnish
Whipped cream for serving

Put strawberries, cherries, plums, honey or maple syrup, salt, vanilla, lemon juice and 1/4 cup water into a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low; cook until fruits release juices and are just soft, 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the mixed berries and liqueur.

Place a sieve over a bowl. Turn fruit mixture into the sieve. Press lightly on the fruit. Let the fruit drain for 30 minutes.

Line a 7- to 8-inch bowl with plastic wrap, allowing a 3-inch overhang in every direction. Working with 1 slice of bread at a time, dip it into the juices, flip to coat both sides, and place it in the bowl. Repeat the process, arranging the dipped slices around the bowl to cover the bottom and sides completely. Trim the pieces to fit if needed. Spread 1 cup of fruit mixture on top of the layer of soaked bread. Then cover the fruit with a single layer of dipped bread. Repeat the layering process, finishing with a layer of bread.

Cover the pudding with the plastic overhang. Top with a plate small enough to fit just inside the rim and weigh the plate down with soup cans. Refrigerate overnight (or up to 2 days). Unmold pudding onto a platter; remove plastic wrap. Garnish with raw fruit.

Serve immediately with slightly sweetened whipped cream.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the former editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at:

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