I was gifted the book entitled Culinary History of the Finger Lakes and subtitled From the Three Sisters to Riesling one day when I was in Geneva (NY) at Red Jacket Orchards. I looked at it, I wanted it, and my partner got it for me. I then read it very quickly, perhaps too quickly, like drinking a cold glass of something on a hot day and getting a headache behind the eye. The headache (figurative, not literal) was a form of homesickness, for much of what is in the book is part of the every day of those who live in Geneva or nearby. It was a form of longing, as there is also much in the book that I had not already met, and that I found myself wanting to meet. The read also made me wish, in a kind of diffuse way, that lo those many years ago when this blog launched I had figured out a way to monetize it. Ah well.
Authored by Laura Winter Falk, co-owner and president of Experience! The Finger Lakes, an Ithaca company specializing in food and wine experiences, the book was published by American Palate a Division of The History Press. Here's more about Falk, from the description associated with the book launch at Buffalo Street Books in 2014: "She holds a PhD in nutrition and is a member of the Guild of Sommeliers. She regularly speaks at Cornell University, Ithaca College and Finger Lakes Community College. She serves on the board of directors of the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance and Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce and as an appointed member of the Tompkins County Ag and Culinary Task Force."
So, about the book: because it is a very short book about 150 pages in length including many pictures and an index, Falk offers what can only be a glimpse of the culinary history of the Finger Lakes. She begins with the first people (meaning Iroquois in her first chapter), offers a chapter each on the 1700s, 1800s, and early 1900s, and then spends 2 chapters on the prohibition era and beyond as well as the late 1900s. Thew book concludes with her chapter on "today." Each chapter contains recipes from local chefs or others and pairings with wines form the Finger Lakes region (or ciders or . . . ).
Because the book is so short, it truly is a skating over of the surface of the Finger Lakes region. Having said that, here are a few things I learned:
1. I have no idea how much the issue of champagne in upstate has roots in a particular history which allows only one place outside of the Champagne region to use the term -- because the making of it predates the legal wrangling to limit the use of the terminology! Hmmm. Great Western truly is Champagne.
2. Nor did I know that the first winery in the United States to be recognized as a commercial winery was in Hammondsport. Who knew?
3. Yes, I of course knew how important Riesling is to the Finger Lakes. I kind of could see it, but I did not know that "from 2006 to 2011, the total vineyard land grew by more than 50 percent."' (p. 96)
4. I did not know apple trees were well established in the Finger Lakes region by the 1600s. Nor did I know anything at all about the history of cider production in the region or in US history. Hmmm.
Ok, there is more, but this gives you a hint a few of the new tidbits.
Of course, I also found some long familiar friends in the book, including:
1. The visual of the world's largest pancake griddle in Penn Yan (on page 40).
2. An all too brief discussion of the women's rights movement and Seneca Falls on page 67 complete with a picture of the Wesleyan Chapel on page 68. In my view, the topic is presented too much through the lens of the temperance movement. (For more on this topic, check out this site or this one.) As a side note, and perhaps a consequence of my poor memory, there is not much in this book about the role of slavery and abolitionism in the book, nor of the impact of migrant labor today.
3. A winery or two (okay, many) that I like or know of including Standing Stone.
4.Mention of Finger Lakes Distilling MacKenzie Distiller's Reserve Gin made into a plum martini as part of the Stone Cat Cafe's Farm to Glass program. I have to admit I have been to the tasting room, and am a huge fan -- though I prefer the award winning Seneca Drum gin that they also make. Here's a part of their site on cocktails to be made with their products.
5. The iconic Moosewood and the swell Ithaca Farmers Market (though I admit to loving the Canandaigua one which goes unmentioned as does the Farmer's Market in Geneva and the historic role of 1970s Syracuse in the rebirth of such markets)
Truth be told, my feelings were -- the book is definitely useful for tourists and those new to the Finger Lakes, and has an uncritical read of the region -- with little to no attention to the environmental impact of monocultural viticulture on the region, the conditions of our watershed, and the complex history of land claims from those who appear in the book only in chapter 1 as though they have disappeared. But, it is also clear that this is what the book intends -- so I cannot harp on the author not producing a book other than what she intended to write! The bibliography, by the way, is a delight and I will likely wander down those paths in coming months.
Meanwhile, of course, even as a native, I found some new temptations other than in the bibliography! I don't wander as often as I might beyond the reaches of Seneca Lake, Cayuga Lake, and Canandaigua Lake, and this book does remind me: there are many others to visit, with many other treats to find. The book reminded me of how lucky I am -- as have my encounters with new places in recent months. I have been loving Geneva, including the new place Lake Drum that friends opened and am looking forward to the new (to me) places on Linden Street.
The book was a gift in many ways -- a reminder of the importance of home. I love being home. I am grateful.