Now that I’ve had a chance to experience a bit of the Eastern Shore’s present-day oyster heritage and gotten a glimpse of its future with Shooting Point Oyster Company and HM Terry Company I think its time we look at the Eastern Shore’s oyster past. The watermen of the Eastern Sore have usually been independent fishermen who then sold their catch to seafood wholesalers; they caught whatever was in season which traditionally was crabs in the summer and oysters in the cooler months as well as a variety of fish year round. Some accounts liken the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster boom of nineteenth and early twentieth century to California’s gold rush; it was hard work that sustained many and made a few very rich.
Having broadened my oyster palate at Chatham Vineyard’s Merrior and Terrior event and discovering the beautiful Chesapeake Bay inlets where Shooting Point Oyster Company grows its Nassawadox Salts it was time to find out where the sublimely salty-sweet Sewansecott oysters come from. The H.M. Terry Company has been producing oysters in Virginia’s coastal waters for well over 100 years. Located in Willis Wharf, a tiny waterman’s town( that also happens to have some of the best Texas BBQ this side of the Lone Star state), the Terry family has been growing oysters in the peaceful waters of Hog Island Bay for four generations. After two viruses wiped out Virginia’s oyster population in the 1980’s the company switched to raising clams. While they have been quite successful with farming clams H.M. Terry has always at it’s heart been an oyster company and has recently revived their oyster heritage.
Oysters and wine, is there any better pairing of seafood and grape? I think not. Virginia’s Eastern Shore is one of the few places in the world where both of these indulgences are produced within scant miles of each other. Historically Virginia had a booming oyster trade throughout the Chesapeake and along the Atlantic coast that was blighted in the late twentieth century, but a new generation of watermen and women are commited to the resurgence of Virginia’s oyster heritage. November has recently been declared as Virginia Oyster Month and the Virginia Oyster trail has been established to highlight the emergence of Virginia as a premier oyster region.
Prior to visiting Salzburg last fall I had few preconceived notions of Austrian cuisine beyond schnitzels and strudels. During my trip I did have the requisite Wiener schnitzel washed down with a glass of Eggenberg and apple strudel accompanied with the whipped cream topped café melange (all of which were delicious), but I soon discovered there was much more to Austrian food. Autumn in Austria means one of two things: wine harvest and all things pumpkin.Unlike the United States where the craze is for pumpkin spiced everything (and many times with no actual pumpkin) Austria’s love for pumpkin is more understated. On menus all over from small family run taverns to high end restaurants you find all manner of dishes from soups to risottos featuring not only the sweet orange pumpkin but also laced with with Austrian gold- pumpkin seed oil.
I’ve driven through the Eastern Shore of Virginia countless times en route to points north. Rolling past roadside farm stands, historic rural churches and one stoplight towns I’d mentally note that one day I needed to stop and check things out but, as with many things in life, my attention and time were pulled elsewhere. Connected to the rest of Virginia only by the 20 mile long Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, the Eastern Shore is a rural area that’s retained much of its own culture heavily influenced by the farmers and watermen that have called this area home for centuries. Vacationers flock to the the tourist heavy beach resorts of Ocean City, Maryland to the north and Virginia Beach to the south leaving the charms of the Eastern Shore a relatively untouched secret. After hearing of the natural beauty and relaxed way of life from a good friend I resolved to start exploring these secrets for myself.
A few months ago I was lucky enough to be sent to New York City for work. I was even luckier to be working less than half a block from Madison Square Park and its seasonal popup market, Madison Square Eats.Over thirty of NYC’s best restaurants and vendors are featured here and I was spoiled for choice. Tasty,tasty choice.
Hidden in the small town of Camden, Maine the Hartstone Inn is perfect for a weekend foodie getaway.Housed in a converted Federal style home built in 1835, Chef Michael Salmon (a former recipient of Caribbean Chef of the Year) and his wife Mary Jo run their inn with a focus on comfortable luxury and gourmet cuisine. Rooms are comfortably appointed with sumptuous linens and french provincial touches while the common spaces retain a Victorian feel with a nod to the building’s historic charms. During my travels through Maine I became increasingly convinced that all Maine residents have a sixth sense when it comes to gardening and the Hartstone was no different. Hydrangeas, with their white fluffy blooms greet me at the entrance while cheerful lilies and demure daisies line the path to my room. Mary Jo’s love of orchids is on also display with the delicate flowers gracing nearly every space.
With the rolling green hills of mid-coast Maine as its backdrop, the setting of Cellardoor Winery looks like it belongs to Virginia’s popular Piedmont region. Don’t be mistaken though, this winery is 100% Maine and very proud of it. Owner Bettina Doulton purchased the property in 2007 and transformed a 1790s farmhouse into the winery and tasting room with a rustic luxe touch in order to keep the character of the original building. Maine’s rocky soil and harsh winters have not usually been kind to grape vines in the past but with ingenuity, a classic New England work ethic, and I suspect a dash of Maine stubbornness (coming from a long line of Mainers myself I can say that) the winery had a successful harvest in 2012 that will be used in making future vintages.
Portland Maine is a vibrant harbor town with a creative spirit and a gritty, working class past. Access to some of the freshest seafood on the East Coast( including Maine’s succulent lobster) and scores of small scale farms and artisan food producers has attracted a new wave of forward-thinking chefs eager to showcase some of Maine’s best culinary offerings. Recently named the “Foodiest small town in America” by none other than Bon Appetit magazine I knew I had to sample some of Portland’s goodies for myself but I was only stopping in the city for one day. Maine Foodie Tours to the rescue!
The independent spirit that exists in historic Alexandria, Virginia has inspired some of the nation’s top chefs and food purveyors. Strolling down the cobblestone streets I found myself tempted by the charming cafes and creative restaurants housed among 18th and 19th century architecture. Whether your looking for revolutionary dining or a meal rooted in tradition your taste buds are sure to be happy in Alexandria.