This morning's Bangor Daily News reports that once again in 2009, as has been the case for as long as anyone remembers, Allen's Coffee Brandy was the most frequently-purchased liquor in the state of Maine.
Not long after I moved to Maine, I stopped at the New Mills Market very early one morning and stood in line behind a couple who were buying a half-gallon bottle of Allen's Coffee Brandy, a gallon of milk, and a suitcase of Natural Light beer.
"Goin' ice fishing," the man said to the clerk.
"Ice drinkin', more like," the clerk said.
While the rest of the country slides into a big homogeneous soup, Maine has managed to keep its distinctive identity, including foods and drinks you seldom see anywhere but here. I'm listing five, but invite my friends and neighbors to add more in the comments section.
1. Allen's Coffee Brandy. I haven't tried it, for no particular reason; maybe I'll try some this weekend. Friends tell me it's kind of like Kahlua, but rougher, not as thick, and not nearly as sweet. It is manufactured by a family-owned business in Somerville, MA, and I have never seen it outside New England. It is most commonly drunk as a Sombrero (equal parts coffee brandy and milk) or as a Mud Slide (vodka, coffee brandy, Bailey's Irish Cream and cream, shaken and served over ice).
2. Lobster Rolls. These have to go on the list, although I don't eat lobster myself. Fans divide themselves into two camps: purists, who believe a lobster roll should include nothing but lobster meat and butter, and those who prefer a mayonnaise-based lobster salad. In either case, the roll is key: a New England-style hot dog bun that opens at the top instead of on the side. New England hot dog buns are so vastly superior to the kind used in the rest of the country that I can't understand why they're not the default style.
3. Moxie. The official soft drink of Maine, it was invented in 1876 by Maine native Augustin Thompson, who marketed it as a patent medicine. According to legend, when Calvin Coolidge took the oath of office as President of the United States after the sudden death of Warren G. Harding, President Coolidge and his father toasted the event with Moxie. Lisbon Falls, ME hosts an annual Moxie Days festival in July, with a parade and a carnival and a river race. Contrary to what some people have said, Moxie does not taste like tar. It tastes like tar with wintergreen and cinnamon mixed in. All right, I'm not a fan, but even the most dedicated lovers of Moxie admit it's an acquired taste.
4. Pickled Fiddleheads. The emergence of fiddlehead ferns is one of Maine's first signs of spring. Fiddleheads are the young, coiled leaves of the ostrich fern, which grow wild along riverbanks and lake shores. Their season is short and they don't last long after they're harvested, so pickling is a preferred method of keeping them. It's hard to describe the flavor of a fiddlehead, but it's very green — a little like asparagus, mildly oniony. One article I saw compared the flavor to okra, but I never think of okra as having much taste on its own. You'll find some recipes for pickled fiddleheads here.
5. Whoopie Pies. The Amish invented them, but in Maine, they're almost their own religion. I had never had one before I came to Maine. They're about the size of a hamburger, two soft cookies (or firm muffin tops) with white cream in the middle; if you're making your own, straight Marshmallow Fluff works just fine. Many bakeries in Maine claim to produce the state's best whoopee pies, but you can't go wrong with Gardiner's own Wicked Whoopies, which ships nationwide. The chocolate-covered Whoop-de-Dos are insanely good.