What’s a road trip without road trip food?
Anyone who knows me, reads my column or even just looks at my physique knows that I enjoy food. And those who know me best know that my taste runs to exotic food, local foods, the more interesting the better. What better time than a road trip through the mid-Atlantic states to test my taste buds and my sense of adventure?
My gourmet road trip started with a deluxe seafood dinner prepared by my friends Sue and Genece in Asheville, N.C.: Fernandina shrimp that I brought with me, Smith Island, Va. clams, local tomatoes and French wine. What could be better?
And then I stayed with Nancy and Marie in Central City, Pa., arriving just in time for their Uncle Mikey’s 83rd birthday dinner, a mix of wholesome country favorites including pork loin, tater tot casserole, eggplant parmigiana, fresh green beans, etc. And to make things more interesting, Uncle Mikey brought in some heads of different varieties of garlic he dug up from his garden. After dessert, we all sampled slices of different garlics on bread. Not the best way to clear one’s palate, but it was fun, I have to admit.
Before I visited my cousin Nellie in Reading, Pa., we had already decided on dinner. Shady Maple! This iconic smorgasbord restaurant in the midst of Amish country boasts of a 200-foot array of Pennsylvania Dutch comfort food including such childhood favorites of mine as chicken and dumplings, salad with hot bacon dressing, pot pies, pork and sauerkraut, and all the rest. Yum.
In Philadelphia, food got more upscale and healthier, I might add. My brother Ken is a gourmet cook, and we spent some of our time together visiting an Asian market for fresh salmon and veggies and the Italian market for desserts. Buying the food is part of the adventure, but eating Ken’s well-prepared salmon and clams, quinoa and roasted vegetables was even better.
By the time I got to Toms River, N.J. to spend a couple days with my childhood friend Patty, she had already seen my Facebook food posts and decided to add her culture to the mix. Patty comes from Scottish roots. When we were growing up, our hometown of Kearny, N.J. was known for its Scottish immigrants and the Scottish bakeries and butchers that cater to them. So, in honor of this, Patty cooked up a big pot of “Scottish links” – beef sausages and potatoes in a rich brown gravy sauce. Great!
It wasn’t just eating food that inspired me; it was procuring it along the way. In New Jersey, Patty and I visited a seafood store selling clams harvested by boats docked behind it on a marshy slough. Amazingly, she and her husband Peter had never eaten clams! So I bought 50 of them, but the taste test was a failure. I ended up eating 48 of them with no trouble at all while they filled themselves on good New Jersey thin-crust pizza, another regional treat.
Although I was hosted for dinner most nights on the road, there were also some memorable meals in restaurants along the way too. In south-central Pennsylvania, I ate lunch at a diner specializing in the best mushroom soup I’ve ever had, loaded with whole mushrooms of many varieties. In South Carolina, I ate my share of local barbequed pork; back in Reading, it was scrapple for breakfast; in south N.J., it was pizza; in Philadelphia, it was cheese steak sandwiches and Italian lemon water ice. Whatever the regional specialty was, I made an effort to find it.
And, for the first time in ages, I had a car with a trunk while I was up north and no airline baggage rules to stop me from buying things to take home. This fact necessitated a side trip between Central City and Reading to visit my favorite Amish bulk food store in Lancaster County. Mine was the only car parked in the driveway amidst a few Amish horses and buggies.
I loaded up my trunk with containers of fresh spices, jars of apple butter, packages of mix for chicken, corn and mushroom soup and bags of dehydrated vegetables to add to soups of my own creation. I already had a bunch of garlic heads from Central City, and at the Asian food store in Philly, I added a bunch of different kinds of dried mushrooms to my larder.
Now that I am home again, I have the ingredients to re-cook some of my favorites. And, when all else fails, there is always fine local Fernandina shrimp!
Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.