Buried in the middle of this long recipe collection, there’s a two-page spread devoted to Nettle Meadow Farms, a goat dairy on the Thurman- Johnsburg line.
It’s a small place, just a few dozen goats, and owners Ronald Hebert and Laurie Goodhart do all the work themselves— milking, cheesemaking, packaging, delivery. The chevre is unbelievably tangy and fresh. And it is also an example of something remarkably rare—an honest-to-God Adirondack farm product.
If you climb Crane Mountain, the peak that overlooks Nettle Meadow Farm, you look out on an unbroken expanse of forested hills. The Wilcox Lake Wild Forest, the Siamese Ponds Wilderness, and on and on. That view used to be quite different—there are people still alive who can remember when northern Warren County had as many farms as forests. Jeanne Robert Foster’s gritty poems about the region recall the times when the hills were crowded with small farmers. I’ve hiked deep back into the woods—miles back—and found cellarholes with hop vines still growing above what must have been the kitchen window.
All of which is a way of saying: It’s hard to really write an account of Adirondack cuisine, because a cuisine depends on food that comes from a place, not just food that’s cooked there. These authors have done their comprehensive best, and the result is a cookbook worth having on the shelf, but more than anything they are inadvertently making the case for more smallscale agriculture in the Park so that we will once again be able to meet more of our own needs, and develop our own culture on more local terms.
They do pay tribute to the fine berry farms and fruit orchards of the Champlain Valley—places like Pray’s Farm in Keeseville, or the October pumpkin stands in the hills above Westport.
And they also note the few great food purveyors in the region, prime among them the noble Oscar’s smokehouse in Warrensburg, a truly remarkable institution.
But most of the recipes in the book could be more accurately described as coming from restaurants that happen to be located within the Blue Line. It is true that some of the chefs do their best to work with ingredients that at least seem Adirondack. But almost none of the venison comes from the forest, and almost none of the trout from the waters of this place—they are much more likely to come from distant farms.
1 pint wild or domestic fresh blueberries
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons blackberry brandy
1/8 teaspoon salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
In a medium bowl,
combine the blueberries,
sugar,brandy, salt and
lemon juice and mix carefully
without breaking the blueberries.
Let the blueberries steep for 1 hour.
And an awful lot of the recipes could not be described with a particularly straight face as “Adirondack.” I like watching the balloons above Glens Falls every fall, but don’t find that the “Hot-Air Festival Duck Cassoulet” in fact “quickly brings back the balloons gracing the autumn skies.” “Champagne Steamed Adirondack Bound Blue Mussels with Maple-lemon Cream Broth” seems to have very little to do with the Adirondacks, despite the authors’ contention that “by the truckload, beautiful dark blue mussels are transported west from the eastern Atlantic shore to the North Country.” By that logical leap, quesadillas are Adirondack too, since “by the truckload” tortillas arrive in the grocery case at Tops. There’s also a level of fussiness to some of this cooking that seems not altogether Adirondack—I’m not sure I’d bring “Hemlock Green Scallion Crepes with Asparagus and Chicken Filling Drizzled with Rosemary-Infused Hollandaise” to the next United Methodist Women dime-a-dip supper.
The Adirondacks will never be France. We don’t have the climate or the tradition to support a complete food economy. But we can do better—and the recent growth of a few community-supported farms and other experiments in local agriculture are hopeful signs. A few more small smokehouses and slaughterhouses and dairies would be even better. One can imagine community root cellars and such—perhaps in a few years we’ll be able to support restaurants like the Farmers Diner that just opened in Barre, Vt., where all the food comes from within a 50-mile radius.
But that will take more than attitude, and it will require participation by diners as well as chefs. When you go out to eat, it’s unlikely that the chicken will be local. But the maple syrup sure should be, and the apples too. Ask the waiter, in order to send the message back to the kitchen that you care. You’ll be helping build the underpinnings of a truly Adirondack cookery.