Vacation trip to Chatham, Columbia County, New York
Saturday, May 23 to Monday, May 25, 2015
During the week of May 17, 2015, I learned of the Hudson-Berkshire Wine and Food Festival, to be held upstate in the town of Chatham, Columbia County, New York during Memorial Day weekend. I love going up into the country, as I’ve always felt much more at home there than amidst the noisy, crowded, and polluted surroundings of the city. I really needed to get out of the city for a bit, and I hadn’t been on vacation in nine years. My mother also desperately needed a break from the drudgery of her daily routine. Her birthday was coming up soon, too, so I decided to take my family on vacation up there for the weekend as a present.
Much of what you will read from here onwards comes from the hastily-scribbled notes that I took during the drive and while I was there.
Day 1. Saturday, May 23.
Crossed the Whitestone Bridge at 7:02 AM.
At 7:29 AM, we entered Sleepy Hollow, Westchester County. I saw a wild turkey on the side of the highway, but the car went by too fast for me to open the window, get my camera out, and take a picture of it. I’m glad to see that a little bit of the wilderness is present so close to New York City.
Entered Columbia County at 8:44 AM. Road is very bumpy around this area.
Arrived in Chatham at 9:20 AM – we made really good time in getting here! The tall tower seen in the background is the steeple of St. James’ Catholic church.
We went to the Columbia County fairgrounds straight away, as there were hardly any rest stops along the Taconic Highway. The route coming here was very scenic. After we briefly looked the place over, we went to our motel and checked in – the Berkshire Travel Lodge. I love that peculiar motel smell – it reminds me of more pleasant times when my family went on vacations somewhat regularly and had a lot of fun.
After we unloaded all of our food and clothing, we decided to check out what was on offer in the town of Chatham itself. The festival was not due to start until 11:00, so we had one and a half hours to kill. The town of Chatham dates back to the very early 19th Century. As such, there are very few colonial-style buildings here. By contrast, there are lots of Federal-style and Victorian-style buildings in the town. A railroad cuts right through the middle of the town, and we arrived just in time to see a CSX freight train pull in. That was a REALLY long train! We were waiting on the corner for what seemed like five complete minutes for the thing to pass by.
I’m happy to say that there were hardly any franchise chains within Chatham, or indeed any of the places that we saw. The sole exception was a single Rite Aid pharmacy located at the very edge of the town. Every other business was privately-owned. My myself and my father found this exceedingly refreshing.
At 11:00 AM on the dot, we arrived at the wine festival right when it opened. We were one of the first customers there, but it soon became very crowded. I loved a lot of the products that I tasted there – not just wine, but food too. I also had some very interesting and pleasant conversations with people. I promised several of the vendors that I’d write up reviews for the products that I really liked, so here we go.
Winding Drive – Jellies, jams, and sauces
I’m always into fresh jellies and jams. This was the first vendor that we tried, and I was definitely not disappointed. I personally recommend their “apple pie jam” – I guarantee you, you’ll gobble the whole thing down sooner than you think. There are two other things that I’d like to recommend – their applesauce and their peach mango barbecue sauce.The applesauce is liquid gold in a glass jar. There’s a fresh good-for-you liveliness in this stuff that you just can’t get from commercially-available applesauce brands. The peach mango barbecue sauce is absolutely excellent – I can really see this being used on grilled salmon! It’s also probably great on pork roasts and ham. This is a really good summertime sauce.
Middle Quarter Mall
744 Main Street South
Woodbury, Connecticut 06798
Phone: (203) 263-6961
Worldling’s Pleasure – cheese spreads
This was the first stand that I went to once I got inside the hall where much of the festival was taking place. The kindly man who was attending to the stall had six varieties of cheese spreads, and I tasted (and bought) three of them.
Country Store Cheddar. This is a plain basic cheese spread that can go with just about anything. It has a wonderful mellow mild smoothness and creaminess, in contrast to the hard salty sharpness that you normally associate with cheddar. This stuff is amazing to smell and taste, and melts in your mouth. As an experiment, I put a hearty tablespoon-full of this stuff into my macaroni and cheese when I came home, and the flavor difference was practically night and day!
Rose’s Red Hot. Cheddar mixed with pepper. For those of you who prefer a little bit more zip, this is the thing for you. Ingredients include habanero and jalapeno peppers, two of the spiciest peppers known. However, the cool creaminess of the cheddar cheese counter-acts the powerful pepper spiciness, forming a wonderful and pleasing balance of taste. Personally, I like spicy food, so I absolutely loved this.
Garlicke and the 7 herbs. A white garlic pesto spread. This stuff has “Italian” written all over it! Of the three flavors that I tasted, I thought that this one was unquestionably the best. Not only can you put this on crackers, but you could also break it up into pieces and mix it into your salad. I spread some on a meatball sandwich the other day. The only word that I can think of to describe this stuff is “amazing”.
Watervliet, New York 12189
Phone: 518) 879-2306
The Olive Table – honey and olive oil imported from Greece
The family who owns this company owns a farm in Greece, but their company headquarters is in Vermont. Most people know what honey is – the product of when bees process flower nectar and make it into food for the hive. Most people associate honey with garden flowers, but did you know that you can also get honey from trees? Many trees are technically flowering plants, too, and therefore it makes sense that bees would take the nectar from inside tree flowers and turn that into honey as well. Ah, but here’s the twist! Tree-based honey has a lot less sugar in it than regular flower-based honey. It’s also usually darker in color, has a heartier flavor, and does not have the goopy thick caramelized texture of regular honey.
There were four kinds of honey on offer that day: fir, pine, chestnut, and reiki.
- Fir honey. Light in color, and light and joyful in taste.
- Pine honey. Medium in color. A slightly more intense flavor than the fir honey.
- Chestnut honey. Dark brown in color. A rich deep woodsy forest flavor. The full power of the taste hits you about five seconds after you put it in your mouth.
- Reiki honey. Light golden color. This honey was much thinner than the other honeys. It produced an awakening warmness on the pallet, which soon spread through my whole body. If sunshine came in a jar, this would be it.
I bought the chestnut honey and one bottle of organic olive oil.
James Gourmet Ketchup
I have tasted real homemade ketchup in the past, and I loved it then, so I fully expected to love it now, and I did. This stuff is low in salt, so it’s not saturated with preservatives. That means you have to eat it before it spoils. Don’t worry – this stuff tastes so good that you won’t have it hanging around in your fridge for long! PS: I’d suggest marketing their own homemade mustard and relish, too!
Hawthorne Valley Farm – makers of homemade varieties of sauerkraut, among other things.
They had three varieties on offer that day: carrot-ginger, regular, and red cabbage.
Carrot Ginger Sauerkraut. A wonderful and complex mixture of spiciness, saltiness, fiber, and earthiness. A perfectly blended combination of flavors and textures with just the right proportions. I felt myself getting healthier while I was eating it.
Plain Sauerkraut. VERY salty, so be prepared for a bit of a “wow” shock to the taste buds. However, unlike the commercial types of sauerkraut that you often see in stores, this stuff did not have the lip-puckering sour taste so often associated with sauerkraut. Actually, it had a refreshing vigor to it. To offset the saltiness, the sauerkraut itself is very light, airy, and delicate. You could eat an entire jar of the stuff and you’d never feel it!
Red Cabbage Sauerkraut. A much fuller and heavier body. Unlike the plain sauerkraut, this stuff’s got some weight to it. I’ve had red cabbage sauerkraut several times in the past, so I was anticipating a very pungent taste. I must say that it didn’t taste as all like I thought it would. It was a very pleasant taste without the powerful overpowering hit-you-in-the-face sourness that commercial red cabbage sauerkraut has. It had a uniqueness, an enlivening brightness that I had a difficult time describing. All I could say was “It tastes like color!” The salespeople enjoyed that comment.
All of the sauces that I tried were excellent. I was especially fond of the garlic sauce. A word of warning, though – don’t spill the meat sauce on your clothes, because the stains are practically impossible to get out.
My dad suggested that I try their lavender hops hard cider. In fact, I had heard a lot of people talking about, and there was a massive tightly-packed crowd in front of the table tasting samples of it. I thought to myself, If everyone’s raving about it, it would be foolish of me not to at least try it, so I asked for a taste.
Very unique flavor. I’ve never tasted anything like it. All I could say to describe it was “Awesomely awesome!
Day 2. Sunday, May 24.
Now that the fair was over, at least for us (it was a two-day event), we decided that we’d take a much more in-depth look at the town of Chatham than we had a chance to the day before. Afterwards, we planned on going up north to a glass-blowing shop, to the New Lebanon Shaker Village, and then swing a sharp turn to the west to visit President Martin Van Buren’s house in Kinderhook. It was going to be a rather busy day.
Had breakfast at Our Daily Bread. Nice atmosphere. There was a distinct Middle Eastern influence to the menu. No pre-fab tea bags – they make their own tea blends from scratch. Fresh honey – a bit thin, with a prominent cinnamon flavor. They make their own ketchup called “House Ketchup”. It has a distinct cinnamon flavor to it, too. I ordered two eggs over easy with corned beef hash, which I hadn’t had in a long time, so I was really craving some. On the side, I had two pieces of challah bread. My breakfast looked so good and so perfect that I just had to take a picture of it.
This is a photo comparing the diner’s brand of homemade natural ketchup with the commercial Heinz ketchup. I want you to notice two things. First, note that the natural ketchup is much darker in color than the Heinz ketchup. I never noticed it before, but I was struck by just how red the Heinz stuff is – no processed food product can be that vividly red naturally. Secondly, I want you to notice that the natural ketchup bottle is one-third empty, while the Heinz ketchup bottle was still full. This visible fact shows that people, if given a choice, will much rather use the natural ketchup rather than Heinz.
After breakfast, we drove through the nearby village of Spencertown. From there, we drove up north to the town of Canaan to see the glass-blower – “Hoogs and Crawford modern studio glass”. I’d wanted to see, and if possible to do, glass-blowing for a while.
Had dinner at the Backwater Grill, a lakeside restaurant located not far from the motel. I had a Jack Daniels steak with bacon mashed potatoes. Appetizer was clam chowder. This steak holds the absolute definitive record for the best steak that I have ever eaten in my entire life – period! Mom had a slice of carrot cake for her birthday.
Day 3. Monday, May 25. Memorial Day.
Gloomy, gray, and overcast this morning. Light misting rain, but it cleared up soon. Had breakfast at Dan’s Diner – a railroad car that had been converted into a small roadside diner. Don’t be fooled by its humble appearance – this place had EXCELLENT food!!! I had two pancakes and a side of corned beef hash, with a glass of orange juice. Everything tasted amazing.
Time to leave. I’ll miss this quiet place, but I was actually looking foward to going back home – I usually don’t look foward to going back to the city. The main reason was that I wanted to sleep in my own bed and be around more familiar surroundings.