Food Finds: America's Best Local Foods and the People Who Produce Them

Food Finds: America's Best Local Foods and the People Who Produce Them

by Allison Engel, Margaret Engel


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060958374
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/05/2000
Edition description: Subsequent
Pages: 480
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.31(d)

About the Author

Allison Engel, the original "source" columnist for Saveur magazine, writes for many national magazines. A former political speechwriter, she lives in Grimes Iowa

Margaret Engel directs the Alicia Patterson Foundation, the oldest journalism writing fellowship program. She is a former Wahington Post reporter and co-author of Fodor's Baseball Vacations. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

Read an Excerpt

At times it feels as if our national culinary landscape has devolved to an unholy trinity: pizza, tacos, and hamburgers. Pessimists survey the American menu and moan that it lacks individuality. The complaint is that you can eat the same predictably (bad) food from Maine to California.

We have a different map of America. It wanders from farmsteads to bakeries to small factories and smokehouses, stopping at the thousands of American food makers creating unique products. Most of these products'barbecue sauces, cheeses, candy bars, smoked fish, preserves, and more'have been made for decades and have legions of loyal followers. They operate simply, below the radar screen of national ad campaigns and costly grocery store promotions.

This book is a roadmap to many of our country's superlative foods. Happily, the Internet, 800 numbers, and efficient shipping allow the armchair traveler to acquire them easily. Of course, personal visits are the most engaging way to see their interesting factories and the sometimes quirky production methods.

There's the vintage candy factory in downtown Boise, where the Idaho Spud is made. That's America's only candy bar shaped like a potato. The factory, with its leather belts, wooden pulleys, and oversized copper kettles, is a look back at another century.

At Ekone Oyster Company in Washington's Willapa Bay, you can watch oyster farmer Nick Jambor and his employees raising mollusks from seed to harvest to market, growing oysters on lines staked along acres of tide flats. They then brine and smoke the plump oysters, and will sell them to you at their cannery's door.

Appleton, Wisconsin, is the home to one of the country'sfew farmstead cheesemakers, where the cheese is made from the milk of the farm's own cows. At the Mossholder farm, aged, raw milk cheese has been made in the farmstead's basement for more than seventy years. Customers are greeted with a sign: “Ring doorbell for cheese.”

We delight in these hardworking food purveyors and rejoice in their success.

We're thrilled that not even a devastating fire could keep Schwartz chocolate-covered marshmallows out of production for long in New Hyde Park, New York.

We are pleased to report that the Shaharazad Bakery, a tiny storefront operation in its fortieth year in San Francisco, still thrives by selling fragile, thin-as-paper filo dough that is hand-stretched in its back room.And we are proud that Kehr's Kandy Kitchen remains in an improving downtown neighborhood of Milwaukee, even after the retirement of eighty-two-year-old identical twin sisters who hand-dipped its chocolates.

We too are identical twin sisters, and we've been concerning ourselves with small, special food companies for nearly two decades. We have yet to lose our capacity to be amazed at the hard work, artistry, and low prices that flourish in this extraordinary group. We expected the abundant examples of highly educated professionals who have left established careers to produce cheese, small-batch potato chips, or salsas. It is the updated version of the American Dream. Forget writing the Great American Novel. Bring on the biscotti.

What continues to surprise us are the numbers of small, high-quality food producers who have been in business for decades, quietly turning out topnotch foods. These firms do not hire public relations agents, take out booths at national gourmet shows, or hit the talk-show circuit. Many, thankfully, never change their labels, giving eaters a visual history of American food graphics from the turn of the century on. C. Howard's mints from upstate New York probably were in your grandmother's purse. The Franlinger's Art Deco macaroon box is so out of date it has become fashionable again, as has the tiny box for Bell's Poultry Seasoning, with its blue Technicolor turkey, circa 1867.

We were happy to find many vintage companies, such as the White Lily Flour from Knoxville, (since the 1850s), Taylor's Mexican Chili (since 1904) in Carlinville, Illinois, and Moxie Soda Pop, our nation's oldest carbonated drink, which is the spark for a town festival every summer in Lisbon Falls, Maine.

We tend to include products that have been made for at least twenty years, simply owing to high mortality in the food business. Some of these superlative food makers are unknown outside their immediate city or state. Indeed, some have been a part of the social fabric of an area for so long that its residents don't realize how unusual they are. In Denver, for example, we were surprised that there is so little fuss over Hammond's Candy, a shop whose range of homemade items and candy-making skill have few equals in the nation.

Many of these companies, having made it through the years when Americans craved Spam and Velveeta, are assured of a bright future. But many others are endangered because they so often depend on one or two key people. When there is no family member or employee willing to keep the tradition alive, these special foods are lost. We profiled several companies whose elderly owners are uncertain about the future of their businesses.

It is with great sadness that we report the demise of some of our favorites from the first book. Lasser's Soda Pop in Chicago, which had been run by the Lasser family for nearly one hundred years, is no more. The bottling plant, located in a gentrifying neighborhood near DePaul University, is now a condominium, the only clue to its flavorful history being a small display of Lasser bottles in one window. Another sweet memory is Avignone Fréres Algaras, a black-and-white-striped candy named after the bizarre hair coloring of an obscure Mexican diplomat.

Schimpff's Confectioners, in Jeffersonville, Indiana, possibly this country's oldest candy shop still run by the founding family, closed after the death of owner Catherine Schimpff. With it went the store's unequaled square cinnamon red hots, which had been made since 1876. We also hated to see North Lubec sardines in eastern Maine; Castle Farms cottage cheese from Emmitsburg, Maryland; Mineral Point (Wisconsin) Bakery's Cornish pasty; and Pixiana Tomato Juice, from Swayzee, Indiana, go by the wayside.

Table of Contents

Introduction viii
Breads & Crackers
Cakes & Cookies
Dessert Sauces
Frozen Items
Fruits & Nuts
Honeys, Syrups, & Preserves
Pastas, Grains, & Flours
Pretzels, Chips, & Popcorn
Savory Sauces
Soups & Chilis
Product Index 451(7)
State-by-State Index 458

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