When a wild cranberry, accinium vitis-idaea, escapes being eaten by birds or picked by people and freezes on the bush, a tart, tender, syrupy bite is born. The freeze seems to break down the fibrous center of the cranberry, much as cooking does, but the berry keeps its intense sweet-sharp flavor and none of the nectar is lost.
Bob Dolliver, of Dolliver’s Court in Bar Harbor, grew up on Northeast Creek. The creek has numerous small tributaries, forming a bog thick with sphagnum moss and a dense growth of wild Maine cranberries. Covering over one hundred acres, forty or more acres of the bog were owned by the Dolliver family. There was a landfill there, and plenty of cranberries. Bob was generous in allowing people to gather berries each fall.
I met Bob when he and his son Jeff were painting the building where I rented office space. I saw him out the window, wearing worn blue work pants, a plaid wool shirt, a paint-splashed cap, and with his son at his heels. I had never met this man, and to this day do not know why I did this, but I hid behind my door and jumped out when they passed. He was my dad’s age. I should have been respectful. “Crimeny, girl,” he shouted as I giggled. He stared at me. It was touch and go, but that was the start of a long friendship.
Bob was gruff, barked when he spoke, and made no bones about expressing his opinion. “Geez, they should nevera put that there,” he protested about a new stop sign in town, or “aaa– they’re all a bunch of jerks,” when what he considered was a perfectly good building was torn down. When he says jerks it rolls slowly off his tongue, three syllables, Ja-eeer-ks
His grouchy outside was pretty thin, however. I was one of many he helped and surprised with flowers and gifts. Every year he would stretch strings and grow a seemingly solid wall of pastel sweet peas, make tiny bouquets, and deliver them to the tellers where he banked. I had never been to a public supper, and so we went. I was used to his work clothes, and as he lived with all the cats he could rescue, the not so subtle scent of feline. He arrived that night spruced up and dapper and grinned at my face, “Clean up pretty good, don’t I?” he asked. All the cats he found, or had dropped off at his door, he had spayed or neutered with his own funds.
“It’s not right,” he said. “The way people treat cats and dogs, lettin’ em run wild, or just dumping them on the side of the road, that just is not right.”
Bob’s wife died of cancer, and left him to raise two small boys. When I met him, perhaps thirty years after her death, he casually mentioned that he visited her grave every day. I knew it was nearby, but still found this hard to believe. “Ayuh,” he confirmed. He was one of the few Mainers I heard actually use that word, but he it did it naturally. His accent was classic Maine, and could be pretty thick. We drove to Schoodic Point one summer evening and had a picnic at Blueberry Hill. A couple passed us with a small dog on a leash. “Ain’t he cunning,” he said to them. They stopped and looked at us. He repeated it. I was expecting them to say something, and then realized they did not understand him. “He said your dog is cute,” I said, and they broke into smiles. “I had to translate!” I laughed as we drove home, and he gave me a mock swat.
We both loved to talk, and shared many a tale. One day in his basement, buried in a pile of sawdust, I saw an old sign. Black with gold letters, it read Shack Secrety Gross. He was cleaning out the house it belonged to, he liked it, and he brought it home. It had been gathering sawdust for years when I spotted it. For Christmas it arrived, cleaned and oiled, and together we hung it in my dining area where it continues to generate questions and stories.
He also told me a story that clearly still troubled him. The fire of ’47 is well known as a devastating fire that burned much of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. Many sources claim it started in Dolliver’s dump. Bob would get worked up over this. “It started near the dump. My dad burned at the dump, but was always careful, always in control. People used to camp on our land, we didn’t mind. That night, cigarettes, or a bonfire, we don’t know, the fire started. It was not my dad and our dump, and our not being careful that started the fire.” He goes on to say how hard they worked to stop the fire, and that when the fire department was leaving, his dad asked them to stay, saying it was not completely out. At that point it was small, just half an acre of bog that had burned. The fire department left anyway. Three days later the fire, which has smoldered for days, erupted, and became unstoppable. Over half of Mount Desert Island burned. His family was, and still is, blamed for the fire. His frustration, years later, is understandable.
Bob and his son worked for many businesses and people over the years. Together they were Robert Dolliver and Son, Painters, although they would also do small carpentry jobs. Their business card read, “Need a job done? Dial a Dolliver–odd jobs, regular guys.”
The cranberries I gathered from his bog, at Dolliver’s dump, were not the uniform red of commercial berries, but red and white, almost striped. I gathered before the freeze from my kayak, drifting into tight narrow channels, leaning against the bank of the stream, and filling bags in my cockpit with the tart fruit. These were used in fresh, uncooked cranberry sauce and cranberry bread. Ice skating the creek I would see the red berries frozen into the surface of the ice, or still on the branch. Those were consumed then and there. Eating a raw cranberry is not unlike munching tart cardboard. But those rare few berries that freeze are different, and deserve to be savored just as they are. In my mouth they warmed, my teeth bit through the skin, and a tart-sweet intensely cranberry liquid oozed out. Heaven. Especially when you are on skates in the middle of a vast tundra.
The cranberry bog has been sold, and Bob does not deliver flowers to the bank any longer, but when I called to ask about cranberries he answered in his inimitable style, “Who’s it, whatcha want?” before he invited me over and said I was always fine lady. Still tart, and still sweet.
Fresh Cranberry Sauce
This recipe is based on a long lost Gourmet magazine recipe, from around 1995. Super simple.
Two cups fresh cranberries
One whole orange
One clove garlic
1 T maple syrup
Process raw cranberries until just small bits, dump in bowl. Process orange, after removing peel and seeds. Add to bowl. Process garlic. Add to bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon of Maine maple syrup. We make our own, but Maine has many wonderful syrup makers.
Meld, and let mingle overnight.
Seriously Cranberry Pie
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Make your own crust, or buy one.
Place in 9” pie pan, and add two cups raw cranberries.
Beat one egg white until stiff.
In medium bowl stir 2/3 cup sugar with 1 T flour.
Add the beaten egg white to flour and sugar mixture, then stir in one cup of heavy cream.
Pour this over cranberries in pie shell; bake ten minutes, lower temperature to 350 degrees and bake 40 more minutes.
Very cranberry delicious.