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Join Hallie Bond for a book signing event at the Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid this Saturday, 3-5 pm.
Join Hallie Bond for a book signing event at the Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid this Saturday, 3-5 pm.

New cookbook celebrates Adirondack history and cuisine

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An Adirondack historian and top chef have teamed up to create a cookbook that offers new takes on traditional food. "Adirondack Cookbook" is part history lesson, part culinary inspiration.

Todd Moe spoke with Hallie Bond, who co-authored "Adirondack Cookbook" with chef Stephen Topper. The book includes lots of historical photos and stories about regional food researched by Bond.

It also contains some of Chef Topper's favorite recipes, modern takes on traditional dishes like Mohawk soup and beaver stew. Todd Moe spoke with Halle from her home in Long Lake and she told him that the book evolved from a presentation that she and Steven Topper gave on historically-inspired dishes at the Adirondack Museum several years ago during the museum's "Let's Eat" exhibit.

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Todd Moe
Morning Host and Producer

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Halle Bond: I, of course, was looking at all sorts of people eating; the people who were trying to live here and make a living as farmers and the visitors who came in. And there were certainly some big differences there; the people at great camps having all the highest style in wines and bringing barrels of oysters on ice if they were close enough to a railroad, having chefs preparing things in continental manners because these hotels really wanted to compete with the big hotels in the big cities.

But then on the other hand, these people who were farming in the area, and of course farming up here is not very good, so they had just the basic sort of root vegetables and things that do well in the cold. But the common element that they all had on their tables was a taste of the woods, if you want to put it that way.

I think one of the reasons this area was attractive to farmers was they could forage and hunt and fish so much and supplement their family's diet in that way. And likewise, even though the wealthy visitors coming to the area wanted to have their wine and cigars, they also wanted to eat local, as we'd call it today, and venison and trout were always on the menu. And, incidentally, providing venison and trout for the great camps was a good source of income for the local folks, too.

Todd Moe: You have stories here, too, of people who cooked at the great camps, people who were farm wives, and so on, who fed their families. One thing that's kind of interesting is that you're talking about is, in many cases, large portions. You know, you needed to make a lot of food.

HB: Yeah, especially those lumber camp cooks. And the difficulties of making and feeding a whole lumber camp crew with bread when you don't have central heating, in fact you're living in a building that is very poorly insulated in the middle of the winter must have been significant, because that yeast has to be warm in order to do their thing.

One thing that characterized meals for the lumber camp crews and I think people, even one of the guys I quote a lot, Arpad Gerster, who was a surgeon who came to the Adirondacks and camped out a lot, both of them, because of being in the outdoors and getting a lot of exercise and fresh air, would eat just about anything I think. And Arpad Gerster rhapsodizes at great lengths in his diary about how being in the outdoors really added a certain relish to his food and made it taste better because of where it was being eaten.

TM: So you were able to, in some cases, find a diary or a memoir, find something that talked about food.

HB: Yes, I certainly found many more references to food and suggestions on how things were done than I did actual recipes. I didn't find anything from any great camps or hotels. The farmwives' journals and diaries and letters I worked with, didn't have recipes.

I did find one or two recipe books from the early 20th century. Basically women like Lucilia Clark, my favorite lady from over in Cranberry Lake in the end of the 19th century, just knew what they were doing. They didn't mostly follow recipes. I think that's a characteristic of American history in general. It's not until the end of the 20th century that cookbooks become common, because ordinary cooking is done by mostly women who already know what they're doing. And even some of the early recipes that are written down, will not have the sorts of measurements that modern cooks like. They'll say "a pinch of this" or "something to taste" or butter as big as a hens egg, that sort of thing.

TM: Was there a favorite recipe, or a favorite story about food, that you dug up as you were doing research?

HB: Well, there were lots of great stories. I'm interested in, and particularly enjoy, Lucilia Clark's few comments on food and feeding people. She and her husband Henry ran a little tourist establishment. They built little cabins and sometimes they would have people stay in their house. We're talking 1890s and early 1900s in Cranberry Lake. They catered to mainly hunters and fisherman. The hunters and fisherman would bring their stuff in and she'd have to cook it. One day they had a lot of guests and she wrote in her diary "I have cooked trout so much that I'm ashamed to look one in the face."

TM: That's a lot of trout, I'm sure.

HB: Yeah, when I'm talking about this to people, I mention that the kind of history that I do is social history. One of my professors once described that to me as "what people ate for breakfast" so here I'm doing real social history. What people ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

It's a fascinating area of research because you have to really look and extrapolate a little bit and try things out because people didn't write about what they ate for breakfast, they just ate it. When you look at what people ate for breakfast and all their other meals and place it in the context of Adirondack history in the wider sense, I think you do get a much better sense of what life was like up here.

A lot of contemporary commentators say it was have been a terrible life and today, it's fashionable to say "oh, those Adirondack pioneers, they had such a tough life." But you know, in fact, I think for some people like the Clark family, it was a great place to settle. If you had enough energy and enough kids in the family, maybe, to harvest everything that was out there, not only the products of your farm but the products of the woods and waters, I think you could eat very well.

 

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