Southern Maine, Season by Season

Friday, August 12, 2016

Gray can be the color of August

A Trip to Eastern Point


Eastern Point, Biddeford Pool, Maine


   August in Maine is usually the time of brilliant oranges and yellows, and dull rusts blending into the dusty green of fields that have been recently cut for hay. This summer of 2016 has additional colors caused by deep, enduring drought as well: prematurely yellowed forest ferns, dry crackling brown leaves on trees and on annual vines that cannot extract enough water from their pots. Even my heat-loving fig tree is sporting yellowing leaves on the patio, and the roses can manage only small flowers for their second flush of bloom.

    The sea features a very different palette from the land, however. Yesterday was a welcome wet day - warm and humid to be sure, but with a slow steady rain that teased an end to the drought. And after the rain came the fog, fog that wrapped the coast in a thick fuzzy blanket. We went down to Eastern Point in Biddeford Pool at high tide to experience a roiling sea under a gray sky.  Sea, sky, and rock combined to offer an array of grays, blues, browns, and blacks just as varied as a flower garden.

Rocks jut into the ocean at Eastern Point

I'm always fascinated by plants that eke out life in the least hospitable places. The brilliant reds and greens of these grasses speak to the coming change of season.

More grasses and tidal pools 

The grays and blues of the stones and the sea were not the only attractions of the trip to Biddeford Pool, however. August grasses are in the midst of turning from green to yellow. They make a lovely contrast to green lawns and to some Queen Anne's lace, as shown in the following photo:

Grasses and wildflowers on the edge of a golf course, Biddeford Pool

 The Home Garden

Wildflowers are lovely in August, but garden flowers can be gorgeous even in a very dry summer. Here are a few shots from my garden from the last week or so:

A few ripening blueberries. We don't get a lot of berries, as the birds and mammals usually beat us to them.

Oriental lilies, Prairie Sunset daylilies, pink spirea, and a bumblebee enjoying my prized "Sir Paul McCartney" hybrid tea rose. A few Black-Eyed Susans complete the floral show.

Sunset-colored lantana on the porch step

A monarch butterfly enjoys a pink coneflower

A cooling and delicious dessert for August

   August is a great time to drag out the ice cream maker, and the array of stone fruits available at markets is a wonderful starting point for frozen creations that highlight the best of summer produce.

    Here's a suave and subtle sorbet made with my favorite late-summer fruit, plums. Plums are - to my mind - the most versatile and delicious of all stone fruits. Peaches and apricots can sometimes turn out to be mealy and tasteless, but plums just seem to get juicier and sweeter the longer they sit in your fruit bowl. And they make wonderful jam, especially if you can find the small damson or greengage varieties.

   This sorbet is equally successful made with black plums, red plums, or even pluots, the cross between plums and apricots. I think ripe red plums are best, though!! Unlike many kinds of sorbet, it contains no milk or cream - the creaminess of the dessert comes from the cooked and blended fruit skins.  I urge you to try it!

Plum red wine sorbet  (from Gourmet, August 2007)

    • 1 pound ripe red, black, or prune plums, halved lengthwise and pitted (about 11-12 halves)
    • 3/4 cup dry red wine
    • 3/4 cup sugar
    • 3/4 cup water
    • 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
    • 2 (3- by 1-inch) strips lemon zest (removed with a vegetable peeler)
    • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
    • 8 black peppercorns


    • Equipment: an ice cream maker

Stir together all ingredients and a pinch of salt in a heavy medium saucepan and cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until plums fall apart, about 25 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick and zest. Let cool slightly. Purée in batches in a blender until very smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). Force purée through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding solids. Cool, uncovered, then chill, covered, until cold, at least 2 hours.

Freeze purée in ice cream maker, then transfer sorbet to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden, at least 1 hour.


Three things that I've found to be very helpful in making this treat are: (1) really cook the plums down - until they're falling apart. Do this over relatively low heat, and be patient. Also, (2) it's very important to completely chill the puree before freezing it in the ice cream maker. It makes a huge difference in the texture of the sorbet. Chill it overnight if you can! Last, (3) let the puree freeze in the ice cream maker long after you think it might be done. Just let it go. The freezer mixes air into the puree and - once again - the texture of the sorbet really benefits from a long mix. It comes out velvety, smooth, and extremely delicious.

To serve the sorbet, I like to make shortbread cups. Just make up any good recipe for shortbread or short sugar cookies, and use a 3" round biscuit or cookie cutter to stamp out large circles, about 1/4 inch thick. Drape these circles over well-greased overturned muffin forms (yup, that's right - turn the muffin pan over and mold the cookie dough into cups) Bake these at 350 degrees for about 10-12 minutes, or until light brown. Let sit for only a minute or two, and then gently remove the cups from the muffin pan and cool thoroughly.

Serve scoops of the sorbet in the shortbread cups, and garnish with fresh berries and a spoon of creme fraiche. A perfectly wonderful summer dessert!