As you know, I will never tire of writing about and traveling around in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. But as this weeks contributing person has reminded me; “Perhaps it is time for a fresh article regarding Finger Lakes Living 360”. And with that introduction, I welcome contributor Sue Woodley who wrote this week’s feature. Thank you Susie.
The Finger Lakes: an Abudance of Food and Drink
As the heat of summer fades into memory and (the fall colors) begin to show on the wooded hills and roadsides around the Fingers Lakes, there’s a sense of excitement in the air. Change is everywhere. The tourist crowds have dispersed, but the turning season brings its own special attractions. This is harvest time. The pumpkin patches are a show of gold, waiting to be picked. In the apples orchards the branches are heavy with fruit. Around the vineyards the air is filled with the scent of pressed grapes.
The local harvest
The cool climate of the Finger Lakes is perfect for growing the white Riesling grape because of its similarity to the climate of Germany’s Rhineland, where the distinctive Riesling wines originated. The grapes ripen late in the year and are harvested in September after a full summer’s sunshine has suffused them with a rich, sweet flavor that gives these wines their reputation as among the best in the world. These are highly individual wines, powerfully expressing the local terroir, whether the product is a sweet, semi-sweet, dry or sparkling wine.
Now is the time to take to the road, to enjoy the Harvest Hooplah and visit the wineries of the (Cayuga Wine Trail). The wineries put on a series of events from September onwards, and by October it’s really getting into full swing. You can watch the harvesting of the grapes, the grape-pressing-you can even take part in a bit of grape stomping yourself-and sample freshly pressed grape juice.
If the sight and scent of a beautiful rosy red apple gets your taste buds tingling, head for the orchards where you can take part in the (apple-picking) and enjoy any of New York’s twenty or more varieties. Just enjoy a few hours in the fall sunshine, pick yourself a winter supply of desert or cooking apples, or go for the cider apples and try brewing up your own for Christmas.
Many people visiting New York State don’t think of heading north to the lakes. This would be to miss out on one the most beautiful and rewarding parts of the country, whatever the season. There’s no excuse: for a great excursion out of New York City-even (for cruise passengers) stopping off here for day or two-Ithaca is only four hour’s drive away. Make an early start, while away the afternoon enjoying the peace and tranquillity of the beautiful Finger Lakes countryside, and get back in time for supper or to rejoin your ship. Isn’t this the essence of travel? You fill your days with new experiences and sensations. From ship to shore (to the lakes and back): the prospect is as enticing as that heavy crop of apples glowing in the northern sunshine, and the taste of both will be a memory to treasure.
Put it on your itinerary
There’s no better way to explore any area of the country than to go with a healthy appetite and a determination to hunt down some delicious and iconic local dishes. You go with a loose itinerary that says only that breakfast, lunch and dinner are essential stops along the way, and let the road unfold before you. The hope is that what you find will stay in the memory longer than any souvenir trinket or tee-shirt.
Looking for that great culinary experience, you could do worse than make your first stop at one of the Finger Lakes’ renowned (farmers’ markets). Take the Ithaca market: this has been established since 1973 and is justifiably called the granddaddy of them all. From May to October it is held on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Dewitt Park and from April to December on Saturdays at Steamboat Landing. Along the covered walkways, you can find anything from the best in macrobiotic eating, a bewildering range of local fresh fruit juices and a display of the late season’s sweet corn to a lesson on harvesting the local honey. Anyone on the markets will tell you: the Fingers Lakes area is undergoing a culinary renaissance at the moment. An explosion of interest in good local produce and traditional recipes has resulted in an abundance of great restaurants offering dishes that bring the best out of the local vegetables, fish, meat and cheeses.
Tastes of the region
So what is the signature Fingers Lakes recipe? The answer can be as varied as the people you ask. It could be a particularly fine (artisan cheese), washed down by one of the Ithaca Beer Company’s specialty beers. It could any of the wonderful seasonal fruits and vegetables, or the local maple syrup. For many, no dish is more iconic or controversial than the Fingers Lakes spiedie: iconic because it is so simple and ubiquitous, and controversial because of its varied manifestations, which can be tailored to anybody’s taste.
In essence, a traditional spiedie consists of cubes of marinated beef, lamb or chicken grilled on a spit and served on Italian bread. From here on, only the limits of the cook’s imagination can determine its final taste or appearance. You can use an open slice of bread folded around the meat, or something more akin to a hot dog roll. The meat could be marinated overnight, or grilled fresh and drizzled with marinade. You can add vinegar, olive oil, onion or a variety of Italian herbs, or give it an Asian twist with soy sauce and ginger: sacrilege to some, but a veritable party on others’ tongues. You can also add any sort of salad you like, or give it a Mexican twist by using whole-wheat tortillas. Arguments about the perfect spiedie can last long into the night as the embers on the barbeque cool and the beer runs dry. What is beyond argument is that a spiedie is the perfect convenience food, and your breakfast, lunch and dinner road-trip itinerary would be the poorer for its absence.