If the mid-coast Maine town of Rockland were in New Hampshire, its motto might be “Live free and eat pie.” At least it would be in January, when the entire town gears up for Pies on Parade.
For those who come just for the main event on Sunday (this year it’s on January 25), it’s a day devoted to eating pie — mince pie, Key lime pie, wild Maine blueberry pie, pizza pie, meat pie, whoopee pie (not actually a pie, this New England favorite is a hand-sized chocolate cake sandwich filled with frosting). For those wise souls who arrive on Friday or Saturday to make a weekend of it at one of the sponsoring Historic Inns of Rockland, it’s a weekend extravaganza of pie eating. We were there last year, happily devouring apple pie for breakfast at Berry Manor Inn, French Canadian pork pie for lunch, dainty fresh fruit pies for tea-time, scrumptious wedges of tart cherry pie for bedtime snack.
The previous year we’d begun our day with a delectable lobster quiche at Granite Inn. We haven’t stayed at the third sponsor, Lime Rock Inn, but we stopped there on our tour for their specialty Key lime pie. It’s not just the B&Bs and restaurants that go all out for pies. Pies on Parade benefits the local food bank and heating fund, and businesses, even museums join in. Project Puffin Center, where we warmed up while watching a film about their nesting project, we had “cream puffins” — bird-shaped cream-puffs with bright orange beaks. Every oven in town must be going non-stop.
Rockland is better known in summer as home port of the Maine Windjammer fleet, but even in mid-winter we found a surprising lot to do between sampling pies. On Saturday we toured the Farnsworth Art Museum, where two rooms are filled with paintings by Andrew Wyeth and others show works by Winslow Homer, Gilbert Stuart and Childe Hassam. It’s a collection any city would be proud of.
As we restaurant- and café-hopped on Sunday, we learned about lighthouses (and had lemon merengue pie) at the Maine Lighthouse Museum, and tasted wines at Breakwater Vineyards, where this year they’re serving pumpkin whoopee pies with Chardonay. Another take on the whoopee pie – this one made with Meyer-lemon-infused olive oil — was at Fiore, where we sampled rare olive oils and balsamic vinegars.
All along Main Street we stopped in businesses displaying Pies on Parade posters, where we were invited to sit at tables in cafes, pubs and restaurants to savor wedges of savory meat pies, mince pie made with meat and dried wild main blueberries, mini pizzas of shrimp and goat cheese. Local products were favored – Miranda’s served a Reuben pizza on foccacia with Morse’s Sauerkraut. At B&Bs we tried quiches and delicate little tartlets filled with fresh berries. We chuckled at some of the pie puns as restaurants stretched the definition of pie (pie-ayuh with seafood and chorizo at In Good Company, for example).
The local good humor set the tone for visitors, too. After a few stops, we began greeting fellow pie-eaters we’d seen in the museum or at another restaurant, and struck up conversations. We compared notes on pies, restaurants and our respective lodgings. We exchanged hellos with volunteers we’d met the day before. We felt like natives.
When we finally adjourned for the night to our elegant Victorian room at Berry Manor Inn, owner Cheryl Michaelsen tempted us with a bed-time snack we couldn’t resist even after a pie-filled day: of a wedge of her mom’s cherry pie. By then we were positively high on pie.