Farm-to-table? Tree-to-table!

After leaving the printing shop, I walked around the rest of The Farmers’ Museum checking out the farm animals. The Farmers’ Museum is home to goats, chickens, cows, sheep, turkey, and horses.

There were wagon rides around the premises so I got on one. The horses are slow and strong, meant for labor instead of racing.

This is a horse that used to pull people, but one day he injured himself and is now retired. He got many pats from visitors of all ages. Horse noses are extremely soft.

Breakfast is included with your Sugaring Off Sundays ticket ($10), but since it was served until 1 pm, most people treated it like lunch. The food is served by volunteers in a huge room bustling with families.

The selection is standard American stuff. There were pancakes, sausage, home fries, salsa, hot sauce, scrambled eggs, coffee, orange juice, and tea – all you can eat. Imitation pancake syrup was on the tables, with real maple syrup and museum memberships for sale. I poured pancake syrup into hot cinnamon spice tea. It was awesome.

Cotton candy made with maple sugar was $4 a bag.

I met these two grannies, Dorothy (left) and Ilse (right) when I sat down to eat. They were really nice and welcoming, but they were super confused why I would leave Manhattan and travel hours to get to Cooperstown just to see an agricultural “festival”! I told them that I was interested in foodways – the cultural, social and economic practices relating to the production and consumption of food, and the traditions and history related to food. They were still very confused because they didn’t see why Cooperstown was an interesting place, having grown up here. I told them about how I had read about pouring maple syrup over snow when I was a little kid in the Little House books, and also how I wanted to see how sap was collected from maple trees and boiled down. Unlike me, Dorothy and Ilse were not impressed by The Farmer’s Museum’s demonstrations because they did this every year growing up.

I think it’s important for people to understand that New York is more than just the artsy hippies of Greenwich village and gleaming skyscrapers of Midtown Manhattan. New York City is a cosmopolitan melting pot of everything new and interesting, but the rest of New York state, especially the upstate and central areas, has its own regional culture that isn’t found in New York City. I first started wanting to visit upstate New York after reading posts by a user called billyboy on the Roadfood.com forums, my favorite online food community. billyboy knows a lot about upstate/central New York and his trip reports have a ton of information about the unique life and food up here. New York City is known for an influential Italian community, but upstate/central New York has a significant ethnic Italian community as well. They created regional Italian-American specialties such as Utica greens, chicken riggies, tomato pie, and pusties/pasticiotti. Cooperstown is actually not great for trying the regional Italian-American food so I’ll just have to visit more of upstate/Central New York!

Just by looking at New York City food (delis and pizza), you can tell that there were significant Jewish and Italian communities there. In the same way, you can see how upstate/central New York had a lot of Italian-American people from the food. I grew up in Seattle, which, while home to a lot of great food, is home to a lot of modern food, and doesn’t have an entrenched food culture where it’s apparent that one culture’s food was dominant. Most of the popular places in Seattle are New American, international, or international fusion.

Upstate/central New York Italian food isn’t international food even though Italy is a different country. That’s because dishes like chicken riggies and Utica greens, while clearly influenced by the cuisine of Italy, have changed and developed so that these dishes are not found in Italy at all and are actually uniquely American. The same situation applies to American Chinese food. Traditional Chinese cuisine doesn’t have syrupy orange chicken or beef and broccoli or fortune cookies, but the Chinese influence in American Chinese food is obvious. Seattle, however, is full of authentic Chinese food made by recent immigrants that could actually be found on tables in China.

I’ve never felt that Seattle had a set of characteristic foods that were unique to the area. Yeah, there’s nationally-acclaimed clam chowder there, but clam chowder is from New England, not the Pacific Northwest. There used to be a Nordic ethnic enclave in Ballard but most locals aren’t even aware of the Nordic heritage there. The Nordic people in Washington haven’t influenced the state to the degree of the Jewish and Italian, or even Chinese, communities of New York. So for me, it was extra-interesting learning about some of New York’s long-running food culture.

 

 

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