When I decided to spend a few months in New England, I wondered how different it would prove to be from living in Florida. Obviously, I was expecting the weather to be much more pleasant at this time of year. And so it has proved. Another big difference has been the food.
Living in Florida had made me, for years, quite disillusioned about the quality of tomatoes available in the US. Large, smaller, or cherry-sized made no difference: they simply had no taste.
I suspect that this might be the reason for Americans’ love of ketchup: at least that’s a way of using tomatoes so that they taste of something. A few years ago, luckily, I discovered Campari tomatoes, which actually do have some flavor and make tomatoes worth eating again.
But Campari tomatoes have nothing on the locally-grown, organic tomatoes I’ve been enjoying in Maine and Vermont. These really have been very good indeed. I just wish we could get them in Florida.
Until this trip, American potatoes had proven to be an even bigger disappointment than tomatoes. I don’t know whether the fact that they are so bland is what has led to so many being used for fries, or whether it’s the demand for fries that has led to the growing of types of potato that hold together well in the fryer but have absolutely no flavor.
Maybe that’s a chicken-and-egg type of question. But chicken and eggs in the US taste good.
I also don’t get why restaurants feel so pleased with themselves when they tell you they’re using russet potatoes. So the spuds still taste of nothing, but you’re going to leave some red skin on? Why is that a good thing? Why would you want to highlight the flavorless parts of the dish?
So I rarely eat potatoes in Florida except as fries or as a cheese delivery vehicle.
In Vermont, however, I had some wonderful Nadia new potatoes. I could happily eat them boiled or steamed with nothing added. Maine doesn’t appear to have them, so I’m pining for them a bit now!
I also tried another variety of new potatoes while I was in Vermont. I have forgotten their name because, while they were certainly better than what is available in Florida, they simply weren’t a patch on Nadia. In the UK, I was a big fan of Nadine. But now Nadia is the girl for me!
I haven’t had a problem with eggs in Florida. They are generally of good quality — especially now that the very nice German lady, who runs Le Dejà Vu café in St. Petersburg, has found a source for locally-laid, organic eggs. She apparently went to the farm and checked them out for herself.
She also told me that some of the eggs would have green shells. I was a bit dubious about this, and wondered if they would be OK. She assured me they would be fine, and she’s been right.
But the eggs in Vermont have been a class apart. Some of these too have had green shells but, once cracked, they don’t look or taste any different. Whether green- or brown-shelled, these Vermont eggs have been undoubtedly the freshest and most flavorful I’ve had in the US. So I have been eating them almost every day!
I suppose the main disappointment has been the bread. For several years, the in-store bakery in Publix Greenwise in south Tampa produced an organic, English country loaf that provided a welcome oasis in a desert of sourdough and supposedly “artisanal” heavy breads. But maybe I was the only person who bought it, because they haven’t been baking it for several years now.
That has left me faced with sourdough and that “artisanal” stuff. Both are a total no-go area so far as I’m concerned. Sourdough tastes like it’s gone off, while I suspect that the only reason bread is called “artisanal” is because it tastes like it’s been made by the local carpenter.
Honestly, who gets pleasure out of having to endlessly chew a mound of dough before you can swallow it, especially when it tastes like it’s been left out in the rain first? Maybe it’s part of a crafty conspiracy among parents who insist that their children chew every mouthful forty times.
I had hoped to find that New England is a more enlightened space so far as bread is concerned. But my hopes have been dashed.
Well, there is one ray of light. There is a baker who makes a really terrific baguette. But I haven’t managed to track them down. Apparently, they don’t have a retail bakery; they just bake for certain other businesses. And those businesses won’t tell me who the baker is!
But, since the zucchini has been excellent wherever I have been so far, I think I now know the optimal dish to eat in northern New England.
For those telling me that I’m in Maine, and therefore it must be lobster, I’ll let you into a secret. I have hardly seen lobster anywhere so far. We will be moving out to the coast at the weekend, though, so I assume that will change.
But, for the moment, lobster is off the menu. The true northern New England fine dining experience, at least at this time of year, surely has to be an egg and potato tortilla, accompanied by ratatouille and French bread. Very Mediterranean!
Just don’t try pairing that with Vermont wine. Actually, just don’t try Vermont wine! I’m sticking to a Columbia cab from Washington. Cheers!