North By East
Meet Brooksville's lard lady, R.I.P Scotia Prince, and more
Don’t Fub It
Misuse of this wicked cool dictionary will mark you as being from away.
Being in the word business, we’re delighted to learn that the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) is complete. A collection of colloquialisms unique to regions across the country, the dictionary’s fifth and final volume was published by Harvard University Press in March. It’s a reference tool of the finest kind for authors and screenwriters who want to lend authenticity to their characters’ speech, but we’re compelled to offer a word of caution: If you carelessly pluck words from this book in an attempt to sound like a native Mainer, you may come off like a jeezly tunklehead.
The words, after all, were collected by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers between 1965 and 1970, and some of them were as antique as a deacon seat even then. Your chance of hearing someone in Maine talking about killhags and flight geese is about as good as seeing a loup garou driving a galmander in a Vinalhaven granite quarry.
Moreover, we can’t emphasize enough the word “regional” in the dictionary’s title. If you walk into Dolly’s Restaurant in Madawaska and order ployes, your waitress isn’t going to bat an eye. But try it at the Maine Diner in Wells, and the server is liable to think you’re gaumy (although, with all due respect to DARE, she’d spell it “gormy”). A kellick by any other name, after all, is not a humdurgan. Except for those places that it is.
The point is, you don’t want to putty around the state with your nose in the Dictionary of American Regional English. You’ll look like a peapod navigating a logan in a fog mull without the benefit of a groaner. The best way to fit in around here: Just be yourself. — Virginia M. Wright
A pair of Blue Hill area farmers are spreading the gospel of lard.
To the list of pleasures that have been reintroduced to the dinner table by Maine’s vibrant local food movement, we may soon add one more: lard. “It is one of the finest cooking tools known to man,” declares Brookville organic pig farmer Deborah Evans of the long-maligned fat. “When you make pastries with lard, they are crispy yet they dissolve in your mouth. I use it to grease my pizza pan — it does wondrous things to the crust.”
Evans and Jesse Holloway, the marketing coordinator for the Blue Hill Food Cooperative and a pig farmer herself, are on a mission to remake lard’s image. “With the agricultural resurgence in this area, more and more people are buying whole and half pigs for their freezers,” Holloway explains. “Along with their bacon, they get their fat back and leaf lard, and it sits in their freezer because they don’t know what to do with it.”
To that end, she and Evans have been offering Praise the Lard workshops, where participants learn how to render lard and how to cook with it — treats like doughnuts, piecrusts, and French Canadian poutine (French fries, cheese curds, and gravy).
Lard fell out of favor in the early twentieth century, Evans says, thanks in large part to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, in which meat-packing plant workers fall into steaming vats of lard. And to Proctor & Gamble’s persuasive marketing of Crisco, a product spun off the company’s efforts to make soap from cottonseed oil. In the 1950s, lard took another hit when studies linked a diet high in animal fat to coronary heart disease. Turns out, Evans says, shortenings like Crisco and margarine, which are loaded with trans fats, are far bigger health hazards than lard, which is lower in cholesterol than butter and, when rendered at low temperatures, is loaded with vitamins and nutrients.
“The mass-produced lard you find in the grocery store is not what we’re talking about,” Evans cautions. “That lard is from confined pigs who are fed on grain and it is rendered at a very high temperature. It’s nasty.” By contrast, pastured pigs like Evans’, who forage freely for groundnuts and apples at her Bagaduce Farm, produce a white, sweet-smelling lard that even tastes good spread on toast like butter.
A superior product it may be, but this home-rendered lard cannot be sold legally under federal Department of Agriculture regulations, a situation that frustrates Evans who argues that the rules were designed for factory farms, not the kind of small neighborhood farms that have safely served Mainers for generations. Evans helped draft the language for the food sovereignty ordinances that were adopted by a handful of Blue Hill peninsula towns last year. The ordinances declared direct-to-consumer farm sales to be exempt from state and federal licensing and inspection.
Evans and Holloway hope to create a legal market for locally rendered lard by making the cooperative’s USDA-approved kitchen available to their region’s growing community of small farmers. The co-branded lard would be sold at the cooperative. “We are cautious but hopeful,” Holloway says. — Virginia M. Wright
A partially blind great horned owl shows how tough her kind can be.
Red, orange, and green lines zigzag over the satellite map of Casco Bay posted on the Center for Wildlife’s Facebook page. They reveal the night-to-night movements of Hootie, a great horned owl with a radio transmitter on her back, as she hunts on a cluster of small islands near Portland. “This is the first study to offer information on island-dwelling owls in Maine,” says Kristen Lamb, director of education and outreach for the York wildlife rehabilitation center. “We’ve been surprised to learn how much she travels — one to three kilometers and to several different islands in a single night.”
What is truly remarkable about Hootie, however, is that she is blind in one eye. Rehabilitators have typically been reluctant to release visually impaired owls out of fear that they will not be able to hunt, so such birds usually end up in wildlife educational programs or they are euthanized. Hootie, who is relaying the first known post-release data on one-eyed owls, is changing the prognosis.
Hootie was found face down in a snow bank on Hope Island in Cumberland by the island’s owner, Phyllis Cacoulidis, on December 26, 2010. After a string of hand-offs by rescuers in boats and cars, she ended up at the Center for Wildlife. “We gave her an initial examination and found that her body weight was 60 percent of what it should be — she was emaciated,” Lamb says. “She also had eye trauma.”
Hootie’s injuries — all too common among the feathered patients at the center, which treats more than fifty owls a year — suggested she’d been hit by a car, though traffic is practically nonexistent on tiny Hope Island (population: two). “Was she hit on the mainland and able to make her way across the water?” Lamb muses. “We’ll never know.”
With treatment and daily feedings and grooming, Hootie slowly recovered, but her partial vision loss was permanent. She eventually became strong enough to move outdoors into a one hundred-foot flight enclosure, where she soon proved her mettle by hunting live mice. “We thought there was a great chance, especially since she is a great horned owl, which is a top predator, that she could take care of herself,” Lamb says. “It seemed like a great opportunity to get some answers so in the future owls that are in captivity can be released.”
The Center for Wildlife, a nonprofit facility, enlisted the community’s support in raising five thousand dollars for the On the Wings of Research Owl Transmitter Project and, with the help of the Biodiversity Research Institute in Gorham, outfitted Hootie with a transmitter. In October, staff and volunteers from both facilities boated out to Hope Island and set Hootie free. “This beautiful, strong, fierce owl blasted off into the night,” Lamb says. “She perched in a nearby tree for a while, taking in her surroundings, and then she flew off. It was awesome.” — Virginia M. Wright
Au Revoir Charlemagne?
A popular Acadian card game is in danger of going the way of the dodo.
Walk into the McDonald’s in Fort Kent on any given day and you know what to expect: Big Macs, fries, soda, a token healthy option, and a group of older residents sitting at a cluster of four tables yelling in French as they play Charlemagne — a once popular Acadian card game that may not be around for much longer.
The game derived from French-Canadian ancestry and seems to have roots in the Dutch game klaverjas, the Swiss game jass, and the French game belote, but little is known of its origins. Despite the shroud of mystery, the game is exceedingly popular in the St. John Valley. “I play as much as I can,” Sue Pelletier of Fort Kent said on the phone while dealing a hand of Charlemagne to a group of friends. “I’d say seven out of ten people I know here play it regularly.” Lise Pelletier, director of the Acadian Archives at the University of Maine Fort Kent, estimates there are hundreds of people that play several times a week across the valley.
The game most closely resembles the classic game of hearts. Calling a “Charlie” means shooting the moon while the overall goal is to collect tricks by trumping your opponents. Charlemagne takes the basic tenants of hearts, removes half the deck, and adds teamwork, elaborate hand signals, a complex systems of trump cards, and elementary French. (L’atout, trumps l’ gros jack to win a levée. However, l’ p’tit jack beats any queen. If you catch someone who fails to fournir la couleaur deamandeé, yell “Renoncer!” Got it?)
Official rules can’t be found online and while the game has been spotted in pockets of Acadian subcultures around the Northeast, it doesn’t seem to have achieved popularity in the U.S. outside of northern Maine. Knowledge of the game is largely ensconced in the memories of the region’s older generation, leading many to worry the game may soon die out. “I do what I can to keep it alive,” says Sue. “It’s sad because it’s such a big part of our French heritage. It really is.”
While the game allures those raised on cards, it’s failing to catch on with a generation that prefers Angry Birds and iPhones. “Kids used to sit around here for hours and hours playing cards, but that’s just not done anymore,” Lise says. Technology has dealt Charlemagne enthusiasts a tough hand. For the game to survive current players must solve a difficult conundrum: What trumps Apple? — Will Bleakley
Bowdoinham birthday bash has been one hundred years in the making.
Talk about old money. The town of Bowdoinham is tapping into an unusual reserve of inherited wealth as it celebrates its 250th birthday this year: a fund created for that purpose by the residents of Bowdoinham one hundred years past.
Totaling $67,000, the semiquin-centennial anniversary account was started with a $555.31 deposit collected by the citizens of Bowdoinham in 1912. William Kendall, a prominent mill owner and sheep farmer (his Long Branch Sheep Farm was the largest sheep farm east of the Mississippi) instigated the project. “William Kendall was a forward thinker, and he wanted to do something that would benefit the people of Bowdoinham one hundred years later,” says Nicole Briand, Bowdoinham’s town planner and chair of the 250th Anniversary Committee. “He also was a big believer in the power of compound interest.”
Aside from serving as a legacy to a future generation, then, the semiquincentennial fund was to be a demonstration of compound interest at work. About one hundred subscribers contributed amounts ranging from fifty cents to twenty-five dollars, and the money was deposited in five different bank accounts and allowed to grow.
And grow it did — well beyond Kendall’s prediction that it would total thirty thousand dollars in 2012. The town is making the most of that $67,000 legacy by throwing a yearlong party that kicked off with an ice and smelt festival at Philip Mailly Waterfront Park in February. Festivities over the next few months include a library plant sale in May, a chicken barbecue in June, the publication of an anniversary cookbook, and the grand finale, the three-day Celebrate Bowdoinham 250 festival in September (for a complete schedule of events, visit bowdoinham250.org).
But the 250th Anniversary Committee won’t spend every penny. It will leave $2,500 in the account to help fund the town’s semiseptcentennial celebration in 2112. William Kendall would be proud. — Virginia M. Wright
Cruising into the Sunset
Portland’s party boat to Nova Scotia lived a long and charitable life.
Every time the Scotia Prince launched it led Maine’s biggest party. As most Portland residents wound down their workday a line of cars would build down Commercial Street ready to board the cruise ship for an eleven-hour journey that brought Mainers to Nova Scotia. The cruise was shut down due to mold found at the Portland ferry passenger terminal in 2005. Seven years later, the Scotia Prince is going to the scrap heap.
In its final years in Portland the Scotia Prince felt like a relic from an extinct era of transatlantic passenger liners and hard-to-find casinos. Down East contributing editor Colin Woodard lamented the passing of this 143 meter long, 1,120 passenger capacity boat in an article for the Working Waterfront, writing, “It reminds me of an earlier age, before I was born, when people crossed the ocean at a leisurely pace, with plenty of places to wander, dine, drink, gamble, read, walk, exercise, pee, and sleep.”
Eventually replaced by the ultra-slick, impersonal, and ultimately ill-fated catamaran the CAT, the Scotia Prince spent its retirement traveling the world and helping those in need. The liner laid low for a year in Charleston, South Carolina, until the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) chartered the Scotia Prince to aid Hurricane Katrina victims in September of 2005. After spending the next four years providing summer ferry service in the Mediterranean, the government of India chartered the boat in order to evacuate its citizens living amid the Libyan civil war during February of 2011. The following month, Flemingo Liners, a United Arab Emirates based company, purchased the vessel in order to reopen a ferry route between India and Sri Lanka. It was used for only a short time until Flemingo sold it to a new owner in Colombo, Sri Lanka, who will dismantle the boat.
This historic piece of Portland that allowed passengers an avenue not only to gamble, but to avoid a circuitous 750-mile drive to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, lived a full forty-two years. With its passing the Scotia Prince leaves behind a solid blueprint for how we should all strive to live our lives: provide a valuable service, help those less fortunate, see the world, and be the life of the party.
Oh, and always check for mold. — Will Bleakley