I picked up several new products at the Bangor Home And Garden Show this past spring. Two of them have proved outstanding. The first is a Maine-made insect repellent, the other a Teflon-coated grilling mat. First the insect repellent.

Early repellents

With all the talk about the tick problem, it’s easy to lose sight of other insect pests, namely mosquitoes and blackflies. But that doesn’t mean that these creatures are no less a threat to our peace and contentment.

When I was young, before the advent of DEET as an ingredient in insect repellents, the best thing that could be said about the repellents of the day was that if you slathered enough on your skin, the insects would stick to it and suffocate. I recall using a clear, liquid repellent called, 6 -12. To the best of my recollection, 6 -12 didn’t work very well. It’s been many years since 6 – 12 was on the market. Or at least I haven’t seen it for some time.

Citronella oil was another favored insect repellent of days of yore. But though it had a fairly attractive scent, it did not repel insects.

One of the more effective repellents of the 1950s and 1960s, was something called Ole Time Woodsman Fly Dope. However, the stuff smelled (and still does) like pine pitch, wood smoke and tar, all mixed together. The aroma lasted long after the effectiveness had vanished. Clothes treated with Ole Time Woodsman Fly Dope held on to the odor until they were washed. In some cases, such as when applied to fishing vests and caps, these items were never washed and so carried the perennial scent of Ole Time Woodsman Fly Dope.

Ole Woodsman’s is still available today and it is the one non-DEET insect repellent formula that I have used over the years and found effective against blackflies and somewhat effective against mosquitoes. But again, while the aroma appeals to me, many people find it distasteful. Also, it requires frequent and heavy applications.

New repellent

That was taking the long way around for me to get to the start of this column, a new insect repellent called, Skeeter skidaddler. Made completely of plant extracts blended into a sunflower oil base, the stuff sounded too good to be true. After all, none of the “green” insect repellents that I have tried worked very well and most did not work at all.

But the nice woman in the booth at the home and garden show made me a promise that her stuff, Skeeter skidaddler, really was effective. Using the combined essential oils of cedarwood, cinnamon, eucalyptus and lemongrass (one version also contains oil of patchouli), this repellent has a gentle, pleasing odor. In fact, I could see using it as an after-shave lotion in place of alcohol-based products.

So Skeeter skidaddler smells good and is made of natural ingredients. That wouldn’t mean a thing, though, if it didn’t repel biting insects. As spring slowly dawned on Maine, I was almost eager for blackfly season to arrive so I could try my new bug dope.

And then blackfly season was upon us. The first few days saw only male blackflies in evidence, so no need for insect repellent because male blackflies do not bite. And then on one extra-mild afternoon, the real thing came. Clouds of blackflies swarmed around my head while I was picking fiddleheads. So out came Skeeter skidaddler.

This repellent comes in a pump-operated, aluminum bottle. I pushed the pump head several times and squirted a good dollop of Skeeter skidaddler in my palm. Then I rubbed forehead, nose, ears and the back of my neck. And to my utter amazement, the blackflies abated. It wasn’t enough that they quit biting, but most of them actually drew away.

Finally, mosquitoes came out in force the other night and again, I had my little can of Skeeter skidaddler ready. A little goes a long way, and after rubbing a few drops on exposed skin, the mosquitoes quit biting. Clearly, this is a product worth trying. Also, being free of DEET, the stuff does not melt plastic and rubber as DEET does.

Along with all these accolades, I have saved the best for last. Skeeter skidaddler is made in Maine.

Grill naked

No, don’t grill naked. It’s a bad idea, a very bad idea. I only said that in order to draw your attention to what I consider a major advancement in outdoor grilling technology. It’s called a grill mat and it makes life much easier.

Grill mats are flexible mats, covered with Teflon and designed to sit on the grate of outdoor grills. The benefits of using a grill mat are numerous. With it, you can grill very small portions of foods that would otherwise slip through the grate. Also, the non-stick surface keeps foods from sticking. Ever grill expensive gulf shrimp on a bare metal grill and have half the meat stick to the grate? It’s maddening, for sure. But grill mats prevent that.

Interestingly, foods cooked on a grill mat still retain grill marks, just as though they were cooked directly on the metal grate. Even fried eggs come out with grill marks. Imagine trying to cook eggs directly on a grill. It can’t be done. But with a grill mat, the eggs come out perfectly done. In fact, you can cook eggs, pancakes, sausage and bacon all at the same time. As grease falls away from the sausage and bacon, simply wipe it up with a paper towel.

Also, the non-stick surface means that you don’t need any added oil or grease when cooking, as opposed to cooking in a frying pan. This gives an added health benefit.

And grill mats prevent flare-ups. Remember how that chicken half got so badly burned when fat dripped down into the fire and flared up, blackening the flesh? That doesn’t happen when using a grill mat.

I’m especially looking forward to harvest time this summer, when zucchini squash and straightneck yellow squash ripen. These are great when sliced, marinated and cooked on the grill. But as with shrimp, the cooked summer squash sticks to the grate. Also, the marinade drips down into the fire and causes flare-ups. But with a grill mat, cooking summer squash (oh, and mushrooms…wild chanterelles should be great cooked on a grill mat) should be a breeze.

I recently decided to try one of my favorite treats, Cornish game hens, cooked on the grill with a grill mat. Normally, these small hens need to be cooked inside in the oven. But this time of year it’s too hot to run the oven. So cooking on the grill on a grill mat, with the grill top closed over the mat, acts as the next best thing to a real oven.

While cooking, I checked a few times and found some grease on the mat. It was easy just to sponge it up with a paper towel. In the end, my game hen was done to a tee, golden brown and semi-crisp on the outside and tender and juicy inside. But the bird was not greasy, since all of the fat had melted away and on to the mat.

By the way, cleanup is easy. Just immerse the mat in a dishpan and gently wipe with a clean dishcloth. Lift out, rinse and wipe dry. I put my mat back on the grill after cleaning, but it can be loosely rolled up and stored in a cupboard, too.

My grill mat measures 15.5 inches wide by 20 inches long, a near-perfect fit for my Weber Q Series grill. My mat came from an outfit called Blind Eye Promotions. An online search reveals numbers of different grill mats, offered by different manufacturers. They all appear about the same and all that varies is the price. Grill mats are more than worth the modest investment and after having used one, I wouldn’t want to go back to grilling without a mat.

Weekly tip

To extend the life of an oil-based insect repellent, place a few drops on a tissue or soft cloth and store the tissue in a Ziploc-type plastic bag. When re-applying repellent, just use the saturated tissue and when done, put it back in the bag for future use.