I love Thanksgiving. This uniquely American holiday is part of our national identity. It’s a holiday focused on family, friends, football and food. We spend the day preparing and eating foods that the Pilgrims may have eaten; foods that are local, seasonal, and are expressions of our native land. In celebration of Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate to consider our vast landscape, and how that land produces food that is so distinctly American.
|What is more American than apple pie?|
In his book, American Terroir, author Rowan Jacobsen travels around the continent to explore foods that develop into the best expressions of themselves only in certain areas. He uses the French term, terroir, (a term typically associated with wine) to describe a combination of factors: geography, geology, climate, and even care, that contribute to a food’s unique taste.
|Totten Inlet oysters|
I first discovered Rowan Jacobsen, and his fantastic writing about food, when I read his book, A Geography of Oysters. This book is a must read for anyone who likes oysters. It actually inspired me to do a bit of oyster taste testing around Boston (in case you’re interested, two of my favorite oyster bars are Mare in the North End and Island Creek Oyster Bar near Fenway).
Rowan proposes that oysters are a great illustration of terroir. Since they don’t migrate, and they survive by filtering water, algae and minerals from their home waters, their taste is a direct representation of their particular bay (or river or inlet) of origin. That taste, the one that develops only because a product grew where it did, that is terroir.
|Maple syrup sampler from Dragonfly Sugarworks|
In American Terroir, Rowan explores a host of other foods and describes how and why they develop such unique characteristics. He writes about maple syrup and cheese from Vermont, apples from New England and Washington state, oysters from Puget Sound and blueberry honey from Maine versus orange blossom honey from Florida.
|Blueberry honey, yum!|
He suggests that “our recent interest in the terroir of wine – and, by extension, of local food – is simply one manifestation of a much more fundamental desire. Maybe you have to be disconnected from the earth for a generation or two to truly appreciate the profundity of being connected to it.”
|Harbison cheese from Jasper Hill Farm|
With connecting to nature in mind, and in celebration of Thanksgiving, here are a few suggestions from Rowan’s book on ways to sample American Terroir.
The maple syrup sampler from Dragonfly Sugarworks in Vermont
Single variety (mono floral) honey from Red Bee Honey in Connecticut
Totten Inlet oysters from Taylor Shellfish Farms in Washington
An apple gift box from Harmony Orchards in Washington
Individual or gift set cheeses from the Cellars at Jasper Hill in Vermont
Happy Eating! Happy Thanksgiving!