LISBON — Linda Bean takes just a nibble of the food on her plate. You can tell she’s wary. This is no ordinary dish, after all. Her next bite is bigger, more confident.

“Moxie is usually a strong flavor,” she said. “But this … this is just perfect. A true Maine bruschetta.”

It’s Pam Anania’s bruschetta, and it shares a single ingredient with the other 33 dishes to come: namely, Moxie, the enduring drink that has spawned its own culture in Lisbon.

All weekend long, people will be drinking Moxie, singing songs about Moxie and, of course, drinking more Moxie. On Friday night at Chummy’s Midtown Diner, they were eating it, too.

I mean, why not, right?

“This is a great way to experience Moxie,” Julie-Ann Baumer said. “Because, you know, it’s wicked good stuff.”

As always, that’s debatable. No fewer than 25 chefs took a gamble and used the soft drink as an ingredient to be judged by a panel of three. And we’re talking heavyweight stuff here. We’re talking moose meat stew, cupcakes, pasta salad, clams and lobster, all with Moxie mixed in for, you know, flavor.

“Yes,” said author and event judge Jim Bailey, forking in a mouthful of meat. “Yes, I can really taste the Moxie in this one.”

If you weren’t a fan of the stuff, being on the judge’s panel would have been a real problem. Dish after Moxie-flavored dish was delivered to the table where the judges nibbled, savored and jotted down their scores.

“Aren’t you full?” someone asked judge Shannon Bissonnette, creator of Better Than Average Jams, Jellies & Sauces.

“Nope,” she said. “I haven’t eaten in two days.”

Good thing, because the food kept coming. For two hours, the judges sampled the weird variety of offerings.

“You can do pretty much anything with Moxie,” Baumer said.

Baked beans, pulled pork, hot wings, Moxie lollipops … The judges just kept eating as the sounds of the festival rose outside, where there was dancing and a live band.

This year, the cooking contest came at the start of the festival rather than in the middle of it.

“I think it gives Friday night a nice focus, as Moxie really has become a three-day, or at least, a 2 1/2-day festival,” said local author and event judge Jim Baumer. “I think it also highlights the interest in using different elements to cook, and given Moxie’s history and iconic place in Maine/New England, more and more food people are starting to take notice.”

Sure. Sure, they are. Even people who aren’t crazy about Moxie’s unique, medicinal taste had to admit the recipe contest was an unusualy good time.

“This is just awesome,” said Faye Brown, a local barber and longtime Lisbon Falls resident. “It’s wonderful. There’s got to be something that tastes good with Moxie, right?”

Brown thought about it, remembered where she was, and amended that statement.

“I mean, I’m sure it all tastes good,” she said.

Meanwhile, Bean, the famed restaurateur, was sampling pasta salad at the judge’s table.

“Hmm,” she said. “I can’t taste the Moxie, but it’s delicious.”

Moxie, Moxie, Moxie. If you weren’t eating it, you were probably wearing it. Chummy’s, like the rest of Lisbon, was awash in orange. Orange shirts and hats, orange aprons, orange socks. Bissonnette, the hungry judge, was even sporting a Samsung phone tucked inside — wait for it — an orange case.

Stephanie Hartley was there from Hudson, N.H.

“They come from far and wide for the Moxie Fest,” Julie-Ann Baumer noted.

Hartley’s daughter was one of the servers, but that’s not the only reason she made the rather long trip to attend the event. Her connection to Moxie is a little more sentimental.

“My dad used to drink Moxie all the time,” she said. “As a kid, I couldn’t appreciate it.”

She came to the right place, all right. She helped out in the kitchen while the kids served food to the judges. And speaking of the kids, the two girls quickly began referring to judge Jim Baumer as “Simon Cowell” because of his — oh, let’s just call it a strong personality.

Jim’s sister thought that was fitting. Cowell isn’t the host of a cooking show, but she figures it’s close enough to suit her purpose.

“Those cooking shows are so popular,” Julie-Ann Baumer said. “We thought we’d have our own cooking show right here.”

And if you have a show, you have to have winners and big prizes. Later Friday night, the judges were tallying up their votes, preparing to give away a coveted KitchenAid 5-quart stand mixer and a bunch of other loot. All contestants came away from the showdown with swag bags.

According to Lisbon public safety officials, more than 50,000 people — more than five times the population of Lisbon — attend the three-day Moxie Festival.

Since 1982, the festival has been held on the second weekend in July. It now includes a three-day powwow; Friday night fireworks and Moxie Recipe Contest; a Saturday parade, Moxie Day 5K Race, Moxie Day ATV Charity Ride and a Family Fun Fair; and on Sunday, the Chief Worumbo Androscoggin River Race and the Moxie Car Show.

Moxie was designated Maine’s official soft drink on May 20, 2005.

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Winners of the Moxie Recipe Contest, in three categories. Each recipe contest entrant will be entered into a drawing for an orange KitchenAid 5-quart stand mixer.

Moxie Savory:

Five-Pepper Moxie Hot Wings

Felicia “Fia” Fortune

Bangor

Moxie Sweet:

Moxie-infused creme brûlée with three-berry topping

Shelley Tebbutt

Brunswick

Moxie Kitchen Sink:

Moxie Pancake Syrup

Nita Greenleaf


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