When I was a child in the 1980s, my holiday shopping consisted of being dropped off at an abandoned anchor store at the local mall. Inside, a few local businesses had erected a plywood-and-tinsel “Kiddie Holiday Market” where local youths were efficiently separated from their allowances and babysitting money.

But I could never find the right gift from among the pre-wrapped choices, most of which contained gaudy neckties and bottles of nostril-stripping perfume. I’d leave, exasperated, and wind up buying everyone on my list something from Hickory Farms (where I could also devour free samples as I shopped). Summer sausage for my mother, wax-wrapped cheese for my father, and a handful of strawberry-filled hard candies for my sister. Unexpectedly, my presents were a hit, and since then, I’ve kept up the tradition of sharing edible gifts whenever possible.

This year, my intention is to share the tastes of Maine with family and friends around the world. In 2021, that’s an easier task than ever before, especially with the growing popularity of easy-to-navigate mail-order aggregators like Goldbelly as well as inexpensive e-commerce technology that allows small, independent producers to ship their treats almost anywhere.

Here are my ten local favorites for the special, non-local recipients on your list.

Maine Lobster Pot Pie Photo courtesy of Shanna O’Hea

Fresh Maine Lobster Pot Pie Kit with Ramekins by The Kennebunk Inn (2 pot pies plus 2 Le Creuset ramekins, $149), Goldbelly.com

Academe restaurant co-owners Brian and Shanna O’Hea won the marketing lottery in February, 2013, when editor Gayle King (yes, that Gayle) selected their puff-pastry-topped lobster pot pie as a favorite in her “World According to Gayle” column. Not to be outdone, Oprah Winfrey herself followed suit that October, featuring the couple’s truffle-oil-drizzled lobster pizza as one of her “O” Magazine year-end mail-order picks.

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I can take or leave (mostly leave) truffle oil, but I’m with Gayle on this one: The O’Heas’ lobster pot pies are a deconstructed delight, with each laminated square of pastry designed to be baked and perched atop each generous portion. Think of these as individual-sized pots of creamy lobster stew served with a buttery cracker. And while they’re certainly on the spendy side of my gift list, these pot pies come with decidedly upscale Le Creuset stoneware ramekins that will remind your recipient of you (and your generosity) every time they make a crème brûlee.

Ragged Coast Pear Champagne Truffles Photo by Winky Lewis

Pear Champagne Truffles from Ragged Coast Chocolates in Westbrook (4-pack for $15), raggedcoastchocolates.com

Since Kate and Steve Shaffer’s small-batch chocolate company relocated from Isle au Haut to Westbrook six years ago, their business has transformed from quaint café to quiet powerhouse. Formerly known as Black Dinah Chocolatiers, the company has expanded its cocoa-covered footprint so much that a friend of mine from England emailed me recently to request a box of their chocolates when I next come to visit.

With international travel still iffy, I plan to send her a four-pack of Kate Shaffer’s limited-edition winter truffles: local-pear-infused, milk-chocolate ganache spheres enrobed in snappy, bittersweet single-origin dark chocolate. Styled to resemble the fruits that flavor them, these truffles are almost too pretty to eat – emphasis on the “almost.”

Belly Dancer oysters from Mook Sea Farm in Damariscotta ($49 for 30 or $79 for 50), Goldbelly.com

Spend an hour in Maine in the summer, and you’ll spot at least one tourist walking around with a cardboard carrier stamped with the emblem of a bright red crustacean. These days, transporting live lobsters across state lines has become child’s play. Have you ever tried it with oysters? Bill Mook has.

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His Mook’s Sea Farm is one of the state’s biggest oyster producers, one whose conservation-minded aquiculture business introduced the country to “Mookie Blues” and “Moondancers” through wholesale partners.

It was only a matter of time before they started mass-marketing their mollusks. If you’re buying gifts for someone who loves an oyster with a long-tapering, sweet finish, Mook’s Belly Dancers are an excellent choice. And at more than four dozen Goldbelly-exclusive oysters for $80 and free shipping to anywhere in New England, this holiday present represents a real bargain. You might even have enough money leftover for a fancy shucking knife…or a second box of oysters for yourself.

Evan’s Rockin’ Hot Sauce Photo courtesy of Evan’s Rockin’ Hot Sauce

Evan’s Rockin’ Hot Sauce from Portland ($8/bottle), evansrockins.com

You know what tastes terrific on oysters? Something spicy. Even better if it’s locally sourced, like Evan’s Rockin’ Hot Sauce from founder/saucemeister Evan Smith’s Pleasure Hill Provisions. When he’s not playing saxophone with Taylor Swift or recording music with producer Jack Antonoff (Bleachers, Lorde, Lana Del Ray), Smith can be found at his commercial kitchen inside Portland’s Fork Food Lab.

There, he produces his company’s sole product by starting with the usual hot-sauce suspects: vinegar, Fresno and habañero chili peppers, garlic and ginger. But here’s an unexpected key-change – instead of tomatoes or sugar, Smith adds bananas for sweetness. That’s not as strange as you might think. Savory-sweet Filipino ketchup does the same, relying on bananas rather than tomatoes for the majority of its sugar content. The substitution leaves behind no trace of banana aromas or flavors, but it does mellow out the spice beautifully, which was Smith’s goal: “I’m not trying to book a spot on ‘Hot Ones’ or win any prizes for the most tears jerked,” he told me. “I looked at the top hot sauce brands and realized there was something missing. The ripe banana is natural, and it keeps the sauce from getting overwhelming.”

Vegan Spicy ‘Nog Whoopie Pies made by Baristas + Bites in Portland (12-pack, $69) Goldbelly.com

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At a holiday celebration several years ago, I met a vegan guest navigating the hidden dangers lurking on our host’s table. What, I wondered, did she miss most? Spiral-cut ham? Slices of sharp Stilton? “Oh, that’s an easy one: eggnog,” she told me, drawing an extra-deep breath as I dunked a ladle into a punchbowl of nutmeg-sprinkled nog.

My hunch is that she would have adored Barista + Bites’ similarly spiced whoopies. Shaped less like flying saucers and more like hearts, these cream-filled little cakes rely on coconut and soy milks for richness and an extra dose of cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg for their nostalgic, nog-like tingle. A dozen of these whoopies won’t last past New Year’s Eve.

Maine’s Own Treats Blueberry Jam from Trenton ($4 for a 10 oz. jar) shop.mainesowntreats.com

I’ll cop to having bought a few jars of gift-shop blueberry jam at The Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park. After a languid July afternoon of snacking and admiring the mountainous landscape of Mount Desert Island, I needed a souvenir. Then a few weeks ago, I realized that the familiar-looking preserves I kept seeing advertised online from Maine’s Own Treats were actually the same “official wild blueberry jam of the Acadia National Park gift shops, including the Jordan Pond House,” according to the Trenton company’s website. Included in each jar are more than two dry pints of locally harvested low-bush fruit. Popovers, tea and Bubble views sold separately.

Two Fat Cats’ blueberry pie. Photo courtesy of Two Fat Cats

Maine Wild Blueberry Pie from Two Fat Cats Bakery in Portland ($59) goldbelly.com

Speaking of wild blueberries, here’s a classic that travels well: A 9-inch, sugar-sprinkled pie from Two Fat Cats Bakery. In addition to tart, bursting berries in a butter-and-shortening crust, owner Stacy Begin’s recipe incorporates hints of warm spice and lemon juice to balance out the pie’s sweetness. If pie isn’t enough of a gift on its own, I like to pair it with a three-month roastery subscription from Deer Isle’s 44 North Coffee ($99 for two 12 oz. bags each month) 44northcoffee.com.

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Crunchy Peppermint Yule Log from Chocolats Passion in Portland ($22 small/ $48 large) chocolatspassion.com

My favorite French holiday tradition is the Bûche de Noël (yule log), a rolled, cream-filled chocolate sponge cake decorated to look like a tree limb. One downside to the classic yule is that it just doesn’t keep well. Eat the entire cake on the first night or else wake up to runny filling and stale sponge. A more shelf-stable option is Chocolats Passion’s compact chocolate-based version. I’m a particular fan of the small, 72% dark chocolate bûche piped with crunchy, creamy peppermint ganache and embellished with cheery speckles of pure gestural abstraction.

Giant Chocolate Hunting Boot from Wilbur’s of Maine. Photo by Andrew Ross

Giant Chocolate Hunting Boot from Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections in Freeport ($39 for a 1 ½ lb. chocolate) goldbelly.com

If you find artfully tricked-out chocolates too impressionistic, Wilbur’s of Maine will help you with a more on-the-nose visual symbol of life in Maine. A sculpture in miniature (if you can call any 18-ounce confection “miniature”), this dark-and-white chocolate novelty is shaped and hand-painted to look like the famous L.L. Bean boot. Who, you might wonder, would want an enormous block of solid chocolate in the shape of shoe? If the guests at a recent dinner party I attended are any indication, the answer is everyone with a sweet tooth and an Instagram account.

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of five recent Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association. Contact him at: [email protected]
Twitter: @AndrewRossME


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