The phrase was always the other way around; the bumper sticker I made my boyfriend buy me at the Kennebec Fruit Company in Lisbon Falls reads “Moxie Makes Mainers Mighty,” but in truth it is our fanatical love of the stuff that keeps it alive. Moxie is a bittersweet brew that derives its flavor from gentian root, also the main flavoring component in Angostura bitters, and it has always been pretty divisive — there is no middle ground where the flavor of Moxie is concerned; either you love it, or you hate it — although the annual festival brings out the diplomat in most local naysayers.
I journeyed from my kitchen in Bangor to Chummy’s Midtown Diner in Lisbon Falls, where the recipe contest was being held, to see how my recipes — Moxie Blueberry Jam, Moxie Whoopie Pies (featured in this space a few weeks ago) and Sweet & Spicy 5-Pepper Moxie Hot Wings — stood up to the competition. Organizer Julie-Ann Baumer, who suggested moving the contest to Fridays so as not to compete with the parade on Saturdays, ensured I had lots of competition! The tasting portion of the event stretched on for more than two hours, due in part to one of my dishes; after my wings brought tears to the eyes of the Yankee Chef, Jim Bailey, a recess was called to allow the judges to stretch their legs and cleanse their palates.
I’m pleased to say that in spite of catching one of the judges off-guard with the heat, my wings and I took home first place in the savory category of the contest, and against some impressive dishes, including a lobster bruschetta that also included blueberries and avocado, barbecue chicken sandwiches with bacon and apple, Moxie Joes, and both pork ribs and pork “wings” — an underused cut of the lower back leg. The prize was a set of three vintage nesting Pyrex bowls from the White Dresser antique shop, which came with the added bonus of letting Ian and I make a game of scouring antique shops and lawn sales to find the smallest blue nesting bowl to complete the set during our travels. This will be one of those things we pass on to our kids someday.
The “kitchen sink” category was a unique hodgepodge that included a number of assorted recipes, including my jam, a Chex mix, a pasta salad, and a pancake syrup made by Nita Greenleaf, which ultimately took home the prize. The sweet category, on the other hand, was a tight race, ending in a three way tie which the judges then whittled to a two-way tie before finally selecting Shelley Tebbutt’s Moxie Creme Brulee as the number one recipe.
After the winners were announced, they drew for a KitchenAid stand mixer, which I did not win. In a way, it was better that it went home with Sally Knight, whose bread pudding was part of the three-way tie in the sweet category, but lost to the creme brulee by a hair, not only because she deserved to take home a prize but also because it wasn’t Grass Green, and I wouldn’t have loved it quite as much as if it had been. I’ll just keep telling myself that, and I’ll get my own some day! I’m not sure how many entrants there were, but each of the first 25, at least, also walked away with swag bags featuring a full-sized jar of Moxie jelly from Better Than Average, a classic whoopie pie from Wicked Whoopies, a sample-sized jar of Raye’s Mustard, a bag of MAC’s kettle corn and an orange peeler from Peg Bauer, Pampered Chef Consultant. I’m tempted to pretend it’s a Chopped basket and see what I can make from the contents!
Overall, I think my first recipe contest experience was fulfilling. I got to get an idea of the competition I’m up against for next year, and I’m more prepared to be on the other side of the judges’ table at the Rockland Lobster Festival in a few weeks. Once again, I have to mention contest organizer Julie-Ann Baumer — her enthusiasm for the contest, her hometown of Lisbon Falls, and for Moxie is infectious, and she put a lot of hard work into putting this event together and making it the success it was.
Here’s the recipe that won the savory category:
Five Pepper Moxie Hot Wings
- 2 lbs wing sections
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 cans Moxie
- 1 medium onion, pureed
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 c. ketchup
- 1/4 c. prepared yellow mustard
- 1/4 c. sriracha
- 2 dried chipotle chiles, pulverized
- 1 tsp ancho chile powder
- 1 c. flour
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 tsp black pepper
Puree together Moxie, brown sugar, onion, garlic, ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire, sriracha, ancho chiles and chile powder in a saucepan. Cook on medium heat until reduced by half. Combine flour, paprika and black pepper in a bowl and toss wings until well-coated. Preheat oil in a deep fryer or a saucepan or wok to about 350°F and cook wings 10-12 minutes. Preheat oven to 350°F as well. Remove wings to paper towel to drain, then toss in sauce. Place on a rack on a cookie sheet and bake until they temp at 165°F. Serve with Ranch or Bleu Cheese dressing if you can’t take the heat.
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