WE RARELY PLAN AN ISSUE of The Valley Table around a single theme or subject, but that’s not to say we don’t sometimes fixate on an idea—sometimes, the stars align just right and certain things just seem to shine brighter. However, despite the fact that our feet (and our lives) are firmly planted in the Hudson Valley, much of this issue deals with being “on the road.” Some of the content here is about what’s nearby (or, at most, right down the road); some of it is about food that is quite far away (as in the other side of the globe).
One of the ironies of what we do here—to reinforce the strength of the local economy through promoting local food and agriculture—is that this magazine actually had its genesis during an eight-month road trip across much of the southern part of this country (more specifically during a three week trout-fishing foray on New Mexico’s San Juan River). On that trip, we came to appreciate the beauty and value of what “eating local” really means—that the soil, climate and, most importantly, the people of any given place are what mould its character and make it unique. From the sheer delight of looking at (and then eating) an absolutely perfect blueberry pie in Machias, Maine, to an exquisitely warm baguette with a plate of fresh stone crabs on Florida’s panhandle, to a dinner of grits and fresh fried catfish in a community center in rural Mississippi, we learned about the value of using indigenous ingredients and brought that lesson back to our original home, the Hudson Valley.
What those eight months back in 1996 did was give us a perspective and a mission. We’ve said it before, and we’ll likely say it again: Every place is local, some place, and there are treasures to be found just about anywhere you are if you just take the time to look for them.
Which brings us right back to where we started: issue 64 of this magazine. That incurable traveler, Toni Senecal, found an extraordinary trove of chocolate treasures in a factory basement in Poughkeepsie, and more in a small shop tucked away on a side street in New Paltz, and even at a bar in an old brewery in Kingston. The intrepid traveler Steven Kolpan wandered east a tad farther—to visit Long Island’s best wineries (rivaling the best anywhere), where the wines’ success is largely based on the region’s unique terroir. And one of our most traveled regular contributors, Robin Cherry, did the tourist thing for a couple of weeks in Moscow (no, not Moscow, New York, Moscow Moscow, as in Russia), a place where “local” is, if nothing else, a highly relative term. (Let’s just say it extends a heck of a lot farther than most of our hardcore domestic locavore limits of 50 or 100 miles.) As she describes it, the spirit of Russian cuisine was typified in Stalin’s project to relocate a population of Kamchatka crabs from Siberia to the North Sea.
Today, Stalin’s project may strike us as being both economically and environmentally foolish (or worse), yet we can’t cast stones—many of the foodstuffs we now proudly tout as “local” historically originated in places equally distant (and perhaps transported just as foolishly). Those rainbow trout we love so much (like the one beautifully prepared and served at Newburgh’s El Solar café during Restaurant Week) originally existed only west of the Rockies. If you prefer to eat brown trout fresh out of the Esopus Creek, thank the burghers of nineteenth-century Germany for providing them.
The point is, whether you stay close to the river or can afford to have a light lunch in Paris or London, savoring what’s local benefits traveler and resident alike. More than a few visitors to the Hudson Valley use this magazine to help them get away from the interstate and find a great meal or a farm or U-pick orchard. Travel is fun; food is good. Together they can make for one helluva road trip.