By Judy Hevrdejs, Tribune Newspapers
8:15 PM EDT, May 13, 2013
What's not to like about upstate New York's Finger Lakes region? Consider the farmers markets, wine trails, rieslings, its Cornell chicken and grilled meat sandwiches called spiedies, its high-profile restaurants and an August weekend dedicated to sauerkraut, with a princess and prince and cabbage-head bowling.
Gifted with 11 lakes (including Otisco, Owasco, Cayuga, Seneca and Keuka), plus creeks, rolling hills, forests and farmland, the region is lovely to visit. It can be a delicious adventure as well if guiding your appetite is the book "Finger Lakes Feast: 110 Delicious Recipes From New York's Hotspot for Wholesome Local Foods" (McBooks Press Inc., $22.95).
Written by Karl Zinsmeister with his children, Kate Harvey and Noah Zinsmeister, it includes recipes from chefs, family and friends, regional recipes (Chautauqua Graham Bread, an Iroquois-inspired Three-Sisters Soup, etc.) and what dad calls "almost folk recipes," those with as many versions as there are cooks (i.e. the marinated-in-apple-cider-vinegar-then-grilled Cornell chicken).
The Zinsmeisters' Finger Lakes roots run deep. "I'm fifth generation. My kids are sixth generation. That's a big part of what motivated us to do the book. It's sort of an act of local patriotism," he said in a phone conversation from Washington, D.C., where he works in philanthropy.
"We tried to make sure the book was a mix of really wonderful, stunning food you can't get elsewhere, and balancing that with things that were simple and wholesome. That's kind of the Finger Lakes MO. It's not a pretentious or a fussy place, but it does have really high-quality food you can get anywhere, from delis, cafes and farm stands right on up to really superb restaurants."
There are 150 u-pick farms in this relatively small area, he figures, and 71 farmers markets.
"One of the most wonderful farmers markets in the world is in Ithaca," he said of the 40-year-old market (ithacamarket.com). "It's a true community creation … and a neat combination of social and agricultural and culinary. It's right on the water, so it's a pretty locale as well."
And on the southeast corner of Seneca Lake, where the wine region blossomed, there's a series of tiny little villages and rolling green hills "and a bunch of real interesting chefs," he said, citing Dano's Heuriger on Seneca (danosonseneca.com), Stonecat Cafe (stonecatcafe.com), Red Newt Bistro (rednewt.com) and Suzanne Fine Regional Cuisine (suzannefrc.com). "They have radically different styles of food. The only thing they have in common is that they're extremely approachable."
Enriching the book are resources (sausage- and cheesemakers, for example) and bits of history. Zinsmeister, who still has a house in the region, has written for several periodicals and has several books to his credit, wrote this with Kate, who also tested the recipes, while Noah was the photographer. And when it opens for the season, expect to find him at the Cornell University Orchard (hort.cals.cornell.edu/cals/hort/about/cornell_orchards.cfm), an on-campus experimental orchard where new apples and grapes are tested, students are trained and cider is made to sell. "My wife and I just love this place."
Your top spiedie spot? "Sharkey's (56 Glenwood Ave., Binghamton, N.Y.)," he says. "It's just a hole in the wall right off the interstate. We used to go there after baseball games with my kids."
And that sauerkraut fest? It's Aug 1-4 in the town of Phelps (phelpsny.com/sauerkraut-festival).
Maple mustard salmon (Adapted from "Finger Lakes Feast")
In a saucepan, blend over low heat 2/3 cup melted butter, 1/2 teaspoon dried dill, 1/2 cup maple syrup, 1/4 cup Dijon-style mustard, plus salt and pepper to taste. Pat 4 to 6 salmon fillets dry with paper towel. Place fillets in a shallow baking pan. Baste liberally with butter mixture. Broil or grill fillets, basting fish as it cooks. Turn once. Fish is ready when it flakes easily. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
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