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Scenic Road Trip: Route 235 in Union, Maine

October’s fire burns all month long, bright at first, then duller and duller and duller until it finally dies out. By month’s end,  the dead, dry leaves and seed pods have blown away like ashes, like dust in the wind.  While the fire burns bright, it is a spectacular show, better than any man made drama.  And this year, after a cold winter and cool summer, it’s been an award winning performance by October’s best actors: the trees, the fields, the flowers.

On a recent trip through Union, Maine, via Route 235, I  sampled the foliage of a bright yellow alfalfa cover crop field in bloom.
blueberry 047 I also witnessed my first ever turning of a blueberry field. Someone told me that blueberry fields were spectacular in autumn, and I just had to see for myself. My friend wasn’t kidding.  In summer, the fields are tinted blue, and in the fall, they turn a patchwork of crimson, gold and green. These blueberry barrens, as they’re called, below, overlook Seven Tree Pond in Union.  You can catch a great view if you pull into Blueberry Lane on top of the hill. october 027 october 036 october 021 There, I also found a vine in the midst of a beautiful transformation, and, just as the rain started to move in, a cluster of Queen Anne seed pods desperately trying to hang on in the wind, below. october 043 october 040 I highly recommend this scenic drive through coastal Maine. It’s a roughly 20 to 30  mile loop that begins with a turn onto Route 235  from Route 1 in Warren,  then continues on Route 17, then to Route 90 and back to Route 1.

If you have a chance, you can also stop in at Beth’s Farm Market in Warren for pumpkins, apples and cider.

If You Go:

Scenic Maine Tour

At the Market: Sugar Pumpkins

Pumpkin carving has become such a part of our popular culture that it’s easy to forget that pumpkins are actually good for eating, too.  In fact, when I first saw these tiny pumpkins at the Crystal Spring Farmers Market in Brunswick, I immediately thought how cute they’d look just sitting out on my doorstep. But when I read the sign, “Pie Pumpkins,” and overheard a man talking to his young son about how it takes three pounds of pumpkin for a pie, I started thinking about how good that would taste: fresh sweet organic pumpkin made into a pie. Yum. So, I picked two small perfectly ripened sugar pumpkins and off I went.

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Unlike their much larger Jack-o-Lantern cousins, sugar, or pie, pumpkins are grown especially for cooking. While the flesh of larger types can be tough and stringy, the meat of sugar pumpkins is firm yet tender and very sweet. Sugar pumpkins are also easy to cut and peel, which makes them great for making puree that can be then turned into soup, pie or pumpkin bread. It takes roughly one 6″ to 8″ pumpkin to make one 15 ounce can of pumpkin pie filling.

After considering my options and consulting with my family,  I opted to make pumpkin bread. I found a great recipe called Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread by Laurie Bennett off  but had to wing it on the puree, since that recipe called for one can of pie filling. I also added some walnut to the mix.

The results were fantastic: a dense, moist bread that is not too heavy on the spice, and does indeed seem to taste even better the next day.

Oh, and my boys gave a thumbs up, too.

Here’s my version:

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Sugar Pumpkin Bread

  • 2 small sugar or pie pumpkins
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup oil (vegetable or canola)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 3 cups organic white sugar
  • 3-1/2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking soda
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven 375 degrees

1. Grease and flour three 7-x-3 loaf pans.

2. Wash pumpkin and cut circular hole around the stem as you would when carving. Remove seeds. Cut into chunks and remove skin, which slices off pretty easily. Cook pumpkin in boiling water until tender and remove from heat. Drain. Mash. Let the pumpkin cool.

3. In bowl, combine eggs, oil, water and sugar with pumpkin and mix well with mixer.

4. Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt nutmeg, cloves, ginger and walnuts. Slowly stir dry ingredients with pumpkin mixture until fully blended.

5. Pour into greased and floured pans.

6. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until wooden stick poked into center of loaf comes out clean.

7. Let cool at least 20 minutes. Enjoy plain or topped with butter.

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Farm Visit: Sunflower Farm Creamery and Goat Farm

Meet Hope Hall:  School teacher by day, goat farmer just about all of the rest of the time.

Hall,  her husband Chris, and daughters Lila, 19, and Tess, 16, run the Sunflower Farm Creamery in Cumberland Center, Maine.  Their herd numbers 23 Nigerian Dwarf goats, after they kept two of the 44 kid goats born last spring. Rocky and Khaleesi, below.
goats 018 goats You might remember those little guys. They were the subject of a 35 second video the Halls uploaded to YouTube over the summer called “Running of the Goats”  that went viral – more than two million hits in the first week alone.  It just all goes to show that little goats bleating and falling over on their wobbly legs is probably one of the cutest things you’ll ever see.

Even the older goats on the farm can be pretty adorable in their antics, such as taking the coveted position on the stump near the barn, jumping over fences, nudging at your legs or chewing on your buttons in search of some attention, or  giving you a nose job when you try to take a picture.
goats goats 090 goats Hope Hall does all of the milking at the farm before she goes off to her day job.  It’s a lot of milking at 20 goats and up to two quarts per goat, per milking, twice a day.  “I don’t think I can milk more than 20 goats before school,” she says.

There’s also the cheese making. Sunflower Farm Creamery offers basic chevre, feta and cajeta (a Mexican caramel sauce) at its self serve refrigerator at the farm. They also have a new fudge in the works, made with the creamy milk produced by the goats.

goats Since the kids went viral, Sunflower Farm has had a steady stream of visitors, and things are likely to get even busier this weekend when the Maine Cheese Guild holds its Open Creamery Day, in which creameries around the state open their doors for the day. The Halls have a big day planned Sunday, October 12,  from 11 am until 3 pm. They also welcome visitors any day of the year.

If You Go:

Sunflower Farm Creamery is located at 12 Harmon Way, Cumberland Center, Maine.

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