John Bird Burnham (1869-1939) visited the Adirondacks for the first time as a guest of the Rev. George DuBois family. It was during one of these visits to the family’s camp in St. Huberts that he fell in love with the Reverend’s daughter Henrietta. They were married by her father in the family chapel in 1891. That year, John Burnham joined the staff of Field and Stream, writing articles about game protection.
Burnham is best remembered as an ardent conservationist. In 1898, he purchased a home in Willsboro, New York, which he operated as the Highlands Game Preserve. He served as a member of the three-man commission that codified the state’s fish and games laws, and as the first President of the American Game Protective and Propagation Association, Burnham was instrumental in the effort to ban hunting deer with dogs in the Adirondack Park. His friends and colleagues included Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt. He is less well known for his career as an Essex, N. Y. candy maker. » Continue Reading.
Enjoying a meal around a campfire is an important part of an outdoor experience. Many a camper insists that food just tastes better when eaten outside.
An anonymous sportsman wrote about his trip to the Adirondacks in 1867, with particular mention of meals: “Trout ‘Flapjacks’ & corn cakes were soon cooked…and then we hurried into the Tent to eat, for the Mosquitos were very troublesome out side, & threatened to devour us, waving [sic] all objections as regarded our not being Cooked. Next morning we were up early & had such a Breakfast. Venison nicely cooked in a variety of ways great blooming Potatoes, splendid Pan cakes with maple sugar syrup, Eggs, & actual cream to drink…We could scarcely leave the Table…” » Continue Reading.
Lucelia Arvilla Mills Clark, a farm wife in Cranberry Lake, New York kept a journal throughout her adult life recording daily activities, neighborhood news, weather observations, illnesses, deaths, and births. The entries are short and factual, but together they offer a window into the life of a farm family in the Adirondack Mountains during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and in particular record the business of keeping everyone fed. Lucelia was born in Gouverneur in St. Lawrence County in 1852, daughter of blacksmith John R. Mills and his wife Jane Aldous Mills. In 1873, Lucelia married Henry M. Clark. The couple had nine children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. In 1884, the family moved to Maple Grove Farm, built by Lucelia’s father, near Cranberry Lake. » Continue Reading.
Rita Poirier Chaisson was born in 1914 on Canada’s Gaspe Penninsula. In 1924, her father Paul Poirier, a lumberjack, moved the family to the North Country where logging jobs were more abundant. Her mother agreed to leave Canada with reluctance. The Poirier family spoke French, no English, and she was convinced that New Yorkers “just talk Indian over there.”
The family kept a farm near Tupper Lake, with as many as 85 cows. Rita planted potatoes and turnips, and helped with the haying. She and her siblings attended a local school, where she was two years older than most of her classmates. Although she picked up English quickly, her French accent made integration difficult. She left school at the age of 14, and worked as a live-in maid, cooking and cleaning for local families for three dollars a week. She used her earnings to purchase clothes by mail order for her sisters, mother, and herself. » Continue Reading.
In 1916, the New York Commissioner of Agriculture reported that Essex County is “by far the most broken and mountainous section of the state.” In spite of the fact that “only about one-third of the area of the county is in farms and only about one-eighth improved farms, yet there is a remarkably good report of agricultural production.” County farmers produced 96,383 bushels of corn in 1915, along with barley, oats, buckwheat, potatoes, and hay and forage.
Corn has long been a staple food in the Americas. It is a domesticated plant, bred from a wild grass native to southern Mexico nearly 7,000 years ago. Its use as a cultivated food plant in the northeastern United States began about 1,000 years ago. Although the Adirondack climate is not generally conducive to agriculture, there are pockets in the valleys and surrounding areas where the growing season is long enough, and the soil rich enough, to grow corn. The vegetable was one of the staples of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) diet. European settlers in the region grew corn where they could, not only to feed themselves, but to feed their livestock as well. As settlement and tourism in the region grew, Adirondack hotels and resorts kept kitchen gardens to feed guests. Adirondack families grew their own vegetables, preserving what they did not eat in season for the long winter months. Locally grown corn was featured on the menu for human and animal consumption.
Although the Commissioner’s 1916 report indicating that most crops grown in Essex County were produced “for the supply of camps, cottages, hotels, and summer tourists,” by the late 1800s, some northern New York farms were growing enough corn to export to wholesale dealers in cities like Boston, Syracuse, Rochester, Watertown and New York City.
During the Depression, newspapers like the Malone Farmer offered advice on creating healthy and inexpensive meals. In October, 1931, readers were advised that “as for cost, corn preparations are among the more economical of the common foods. Two pounds for five cents is the average price per pound by bulk for both corn meal and hominy.”
A regular column, called the “Market Basket,” offered readers tips on shopping, canning, cooking, and sample menus. The May 20th, 1931 edition also included a recipe for corn soup:
2 cups canned crushed corn 1 cup water 1 quart milk 1 onion, cut in halves 1 tablespoon flour 4 tablespoons butter Salt to taste Pepper
Combine the corn and the water, cook for 10 minutes, and stir constantly to keep from sticking to the pan. Press the corn through a strainer. Heat the milk and the onion in the double boiler and thicken with the flour and fat, which have been well blended. Add the corn pulp, salt, and pepper, Heat, remove the onion, and serve. Buttered popcorn makes an interesting substitute for croutons to serve with corn soup.
Adirondack farmers hosted “husking bees” during harvest. Families and neighbors gathered together to remove cornhusks before cooking for a crowd. In Willsboro, an unidentified farmer or family member used a small wooden peg, pointed on one end and held with a strap of leather to the thumb as an aid in removing husks from many ears of corn. Made by hand near the turn of the 20th century, it would have made such a repetitive task easier.
Come see the corn husker (76.163.12), and other corn-relates artifacts in ‘Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions” at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, on exhibit this season through October 18, 2010.
Corn Husker Found in Willsboro, NY ca. 1890-1930 76.163.12 Gift of Dennis Wells
In Rules for Recovery from Tuberculosis, published in Saranac Lake in 1915, Dr. Lawrason Brown stated that “there are no more difficult problems in the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis than to make some patients gain weight and to help others avoid digestive disturbances.”
Diet was an important part of treatment for tuberculosis, the “white plague.” Highly contagious, tuberculosis (or TB) was one of the most dreaded diseases in the 19th century. Caused by a bacterial infection, TB most commonly affects the lungs, although it may infect other organs as well. Today, a combination of antibiotics, taken for period of several months, will cure most patients. The drugs used to treat tuberculosis were developed more than fifty years ago. Before then, thousands came to the Adirondack Mountains seeking a cure in the fresh air, away from the close quarters and heat of urban streets. Doctors prescribed a strict regimen of rest, mild exercise, plenty of fresh air, and healthy, easy to digest meals. » Continue Reading.
Oh! My old kitchen cook stove, to time now surrendered, How well I remember the day you were new. As so proud in your newness, you stood in my kitchen So black and so shiny, and fair to my view. How oft, by your side, in the years that have vanished I have held my firstborn to your genial heat And the years in their passing, added still others ‘Till your hearth was surrounded with dear little feet….
Lucelia Mills Clark, a farm wife from Cranberry Lake, wrote this ode to her cast iron cook stove in 1899. Her verse reflects the iconic status of the 19th century cook stove in the American imagination—as the heart of the home, a place where families gathered and generations spent time together, when life was simpler. » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Mountains have long been treasured for the healing properties of clean air, beautiful scenery, and sparkling water. The air and scenery could only be experienced in the Park itself, but water could be bottled and shipped elsewhere, and became a major export from the region during the 19th century.
Urban-dwelling New Yorkers in the late 1800s suffered from the effects of overcrowding, poor ventilation, summer heat, and the stresses of working a nine-to-five job. New ills like “dyspepsia” and “neuralgia” could be alleviated with a healthful escape to the Adirondack Mountains, where fresh air, exercise, and pure water would restore the weakest constitution to vigorous health. For those who could not afford the time or cost of a summer in the mountains, bottled water from Adirondack springs was a more affordable alternative. Bottled water, some imported from overseas, was served in fine restaurants in New York City. Bottled from mineral springs, it often contained slight amounts of sodium bicarbonate, which could soothe an unsettled stomach. Bottled water was valued not only as an aid to digestion, but also for other perceived medical benefits.
In the early 1860s, the St. Regis Spring in Massena, New York, produced water advertised as a “curative for all affections [sic] of the Skin, Liver and Kidneys.” Harvey I. Cutting of Potsdam bottled and sold “Adirondack Ozonia Water,” the “world’s most hygienic water” from a spring “in the wildest portion of the Adirondack wilderness, far from the contaminations of human habitation” near Kildare in St. Lawrence County.
Cutting’s advertising included testimonials from satisfied customers. G.W. Schnull, a wholesale grocer in Indianapolis, Indiana, wrote in 1905, “I have used your Adirondack Ozonia Water for several months and find it to be the best water I have ever had. It acts on the kidneys and bowels in such a way as not to be annoying.” With typical Victorian hyperbole, the company touted the water’s “most excellent medicinal qualities,” claiming it cured hay fever, “congestion of the brain and prostate gland,” breast cancer, rheumatism, inflammation of the bladder, Bright’s disease, and “stomach troubles.”
By 1903, the Malone Farmer reported “an average of 1,500 gallons of Adirondack water is shipped from Lowville to Watertown each week. The water is sold in that city in three gallon cases at 15 cents per case.” In 1911, the Ogdensburg Advance and St. Lawrence Weekly Democrat ran a story in the Farm and Garden column advocating “Water as a Crop,” as “a great many cities are complaining of the inferior quality of the water furnished by city waterworks.” Water wagons, bearing loads of spring water, were a common sight in many cities, and a “profitable trade in bottled water could be worked up at little cost to the farmer, provided, of course, they have never failing springs of pure water from which to supply the demand.”
A. Augustus Low (1843-1912), was a prolific inventor, entrepreneur, and owner of the Horse Shoe Forestry Company in northern Hamilton County, near the center of the Adirondack Park. Low produced lumber, maple syrup, wine, and jams and jellies. In the 1880s, his company began exporting bottled water from the “Adirondack Mt’s Virgin Forest Springs.” In 1905, Low designed and patented a glass water bottle with heavy ribs near the neck that strengthened it, reducing breakage while in transit. The ribbing also made the bottles easier to grasp.
In 1908, Low’s Adirondack empire collapsed when a series of devastating forest fires burned through his Adirondack properties. The Adirondack Museum owns several objects relating to the Horse Shoe Forestry Company’s products, including one of Low’s spring water bottles and the patent he received for its design. Both are on exhibit in “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions,” open in 2010 through October 18.
Photo: Bottle for spring water, Horse Shoe Forestry Company, 1903-1905.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), a perennial herb, once proliferated along the eastern seaboard from Maine to Alabama. It is similar to Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), and was one of the first herbs to be harvested and sold commercially. The name “ginseng” comes from the Chinese word “jen-shen” which means “in the image of a man,” a reference to the shape of the mature root, which resembles the human body.
Wild ginseng in China and Korea has been relatively rare for centuries, a result of over harvesting. It was discovered in central New York in 1751. By the late 18th century, Albany, New York had become a center of trade in ginseng. Most Adirondack ginseng was exported to China where it was (and is) used as a popular remedy. By the middle of the 19th century, wild American ginseng was in danger of being eradicated by “shang” hunters, who dug up the brittle roots for sale to wholesale enterprises. Horticulture experts and private citizens alike experimented with cultivating the herb.
The September 5, 1906 issue of the Malone Farmer featured a front-page ad: “Wanted—People to grow Ginseng…Any one can do it and grow hundreds of dollars worth in the garden. Requires little ground.” F.B. Mills, of Rose Hill, NY, provided seeds and instructions (at cost) and a promise to buy the mature roots at $8.00 per pound.
Ginseng farming takes patience. It grows in cool, shady areas, in acidic soils such as are found in hardwood forests. The larger and older the root—which can live 100 years or more—the more it is worth. Ginseng is relatively easy to cultivate, but one must wait for the plants to mature over the course of 5-10 years before seeing a return on investment.
Nevertheless, by the turn of the 20th century, ginseng farming was common, and held the promise of great profit. The July 16, 1908 edition of the Fort Covington Sun ran a headline proclaiming “PUT GREAT FAITH IN GINSENG. Chinese Willing to Pay Fabulous Prices for Roots.” In 1904 a Plattsburgh paper reported that L.A. Childs of Chazy “will make an extensive exhibit of this product at the coming Clinton county fair, and this will be the first public exhibit of it ever made in Northern New York.” Three years later Miss Melissa Smith of St. Johnsville, “probably the only woman in America who grows ginseng for a living,” was reported to have roots valued at more than $10,000.
The actual medical benefits of ginseng have been disputed in Western medicine for centuries. The September 19, 1900 issue of the Malone Farmer expressed the opinion that “The ginseng trade is the most extraordinary in the world. American doctors believe it to be practically valueless as a medicine, or at the most about as potent as licorice.” Users claim it increases energy, prolongs life, and induces a feeling of wellbeing.
The Adirondack Museum’s permanent collection includes this ginseng root harvester, used in Franklin County during the late 19th century. Ginseng is never pulled from the ground. Whole, unbroken roots have the greatest value. This tool was used to dig the soil around the plant, some six inches away from the stem. Once the soil around the root was removed, the shang hunter could lift the root out and carefully brush away the dirt.
The market value of ginseng has risen and fallen over the centuries, but it remains an important forest crop. In 1977, the US Fish and Wildlife Service imposed restrictions on the sale of ginseng under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. New York State, as well as most states in the Northeast, tightly regulates the sale and harvest of ginseng. No wild ginseng may be harvested on state lands.
Photo: Ginseng Root Harvester Found in Tupper Lake, NY ca. 1850-1890. Courtesy the Adirondack Museum (2001.38.2).
In the late 19th century, a new fad swept the nation. Chewing gum was decried by newspaper editors and public pundits as “an essentially vulgar indulgence that not only shows bad breeding, but spoils a pretty countenance.” Nevertheless, the June 14, 1894 edition of the Malone Palladium commented, “No observant person can have failed to note the marked growth of the habit of chewing gum…in all parts of the country and among all classes.” The paper noted that even the “late Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York was a firm believer in spruce gum chewing.”
The gum-chewing craze began in the conifer forests of Maine and the Adirondacks. Made from the dried and crystallized sap of spruce trees, spruce gum was an important commercial crop in the Adirondack region during the 19th and early 20th centuries. » Continue Reading.
The Oval Wood Dish Company was founded in 1883 in Delta, Ohio. Four years later, the company relocated to Mancelona, Michigan. There they manufactured wooden dishes, made of a single piece of wood, scooped out to form a bowl a sixteenth of an inch thick. The bowls were disposable containers used by butchers as temporary containers for the ground beef and other meats purchased by customers. Eventually, the company replaced the wasteful method of scooping out the bowls with a wood veneer, cut and stapled to form a bowl.
In 1892, the Oval Wood Dish management moved operations again, to Traverse City, Michigan. The firm was successful; by 1899, the plant was using thirteen million feet of lumber annually, and its wooden bowls were in “every grocery store in the nation.” Success had its price, as the local timber supplies began to run out. Oval Wood Dish planned to move again, to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Those plans took a turn in 1913 when two of the company’s executives vacationed in the Adirondacks. Seeing the vast amounts of local hardwood, the company moved instead to Tupper Lake, New York in 1918.
The community welcomed news of the company’s arrival. The local newspaper reported that the firm would employ 300 men and 200 girls. New construction would be needed to house the influx of workers and their families. Oval Wood Dish revitalized the small logging town. Its owners held company picnics, built the first ski hill, and donated land for the Tupper Lake Country Club golf course. Oval Wood Dish also employed large numbers of women (unusual for its time), advertising that “Tupper Lake Girls Do Better Here.” Female workers were offered “light pleasant work…the factory is clean, light, well ventilated, and warm in Winter.”
Although the firm struggled during the Depression, the company rebounded with the introduction of the “Ritespoon” and “Ritefork” in 1937. The equipment needed to manufacture the new products was designed and tested in the Tupper Lake plant. The Tupper Lake Free Press announced the new line of Riteshape products: “They are the only wooden spoon on the market with a bowl, and the only ones shaped like a metal spoon. Both products are made from selected white birch, and are smooth and sanitary. There are no rough edges or splinters, and they are not rendered useless by heat, oil, or moisture…even when used in hot drinks.” The Ritefork was shaped like the spoon, but with three short tines—the equivalent of the modern “spork.” Both utensils were “packed in cellophane packages which display the contents but prevent contamination.”
The Riteshape line of wooden tableware proved a success. By 1940, Oval Wood Dish employed 539 workers in Tupper Lake, fulfilling predictions that the new line would revitalize the company: “The equipment already in service to turn them out is being worked 24 hours a day.”
Until it went out of business in 1964, Oval Wood Dish manufactured clothespins, bowling pins, tongue depressors, furniture pieces, commercial veneer, hardwood flooring, ice cream and popsicle sticks, and, well into the 1960s, the small, flat spoons many remember from childhood: “Five hundred million wooden spoons alone are produced annually, and the chances are that the wood spoon that comes with your cup of ice cream …brings silent greetings from Tupper Lake.”
Come see the Oval Wood Dish Riteforks (84.51.3) (“The True Shape of Tableware”) and more, in “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions” at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Opening for the season on May 28, 2010.
Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey was born on December 10, 1851, in Adams Center, New York. The youngest of five children, he displayed a propensity for organization and efficiency early in life, rearranging his mother’s kitchen cabinets while she was out. At the age of 12, he walked 11 miles from his family’s home in Oneida to Watertown to buy his first book, a copy of Webster’s Dictionary. In 1874, after graduating from Amherst College, Dewey was hired as the college librarian. Shortly thereafter, he created his first Dewey Decimal System for classifying books.
In 1890, Melville and his wife Annie made their first trip to Lake Placid. Both suffered from seasonal allergies and sought relief in the clear air of the Adirondacks. Three years later, Dewey organized a cooperative venture, which he called the Placid Park Club, by inviting a select few to join: “We are intensely interested in getting for neighbors people whom of all others we would prefer.” The Club was to be “an ideal summer home in ideal surroundings,” where people of like background and interests could socialize in an informal atmosphere. Membership would not be extended to anyone “against whom there can be any reasonable physical, social, or race objection. This excludes absolutely all consumptives or other invalids whose presence might endanger the health or modify the freedom or enjoyment of other members.” The first summer season, in 1895, attracted 30 guests. » Continue Reading.
In 1926 artist Rockwell Kent married Frances Lee, his second wife. An infamous womanizer, Kent made little effort to hide his affairs, even bringing some of his paramours home for dinner with his new bride. In less than a year, the Kent’s marriage was in serious trouble. To save the relationship, Rockwell and Frances agreed to leave New York City and move to a place with fewer temptations.
Frances found a perfect spot in the heart of the Adirondacks–an old farm near Ausable Forks with views of Whiteface. Kent remembered his first view of the property: “The nearer we got to the house the worse it looked; and when we finally came so close as to lose sight of its general proportional unsightliness we became only the more aware of its particular shoddiness.” Nevertheless, the couple purchased the property for $5,000. It was about 200 acres, the heart of the farm “being level meadowland, and the rest pine woods and pasture of a sort…Lock, stock, and barrel we had purchased our farm: the land, the buildings, the team, the cows and heifers, the wagons, implements, and tools.” Within three weeks of purchasing the property, plans for a new house and barn were complete, and within five weeks contractors had poured the concrete foundations. By snowfall, the buildings were under roof. Kent named the farm “Asgaard,” meaning the “farm of the gods” in Nordic myth. He painted the name in four-foot-high letters on the barn.
The property came complete with a tenant farmer on site. Kent purchased a local milk route, and hired the man to manage the dairy operation. The business of farming did not prove very profitable: “You’d think—I mean that people who have never owned a farm would think—that when a farmer, paying his own taxes and all his costs of operation, can earn enough to live, he’d earn at least as much when someone else pays his taxes and his costs for him, not to mention a salary. But it’s funny about farming…It just doesn’t work out that way.” Kent persisted, finding satisfaction in making his land productive, if not entirely profitable.
During World War II, Kent aided the war effort by doubling Asgaard’s milk production, increasing the size of his herd of Jersey cows, enlarging the barn, and installing a bottling plant so he could sell directly to local customers.
In 1948, Kent’s business ran afoul of local political sentiment when he organized a chapter of the leftist American Labor Party. After distributing political leaflets in Ausable Forks, his customers began canceling orders, one of them saying, “We don’t want Russian milk.” The local Catholic priest visited his workers, telling them to quit and asking them if they were Communists. After losing two employees and the major portion of his customers, Kent gave his entire business to two of his remaining employees and asked them to move it off the property as quickly as possible. When he and Frances received death threats, and a warning that “Someday they’ll be up to burn him out,” friend Billy Burgess watched the property armed with two guns.
The national press picked up the story of the controversy, and although Kent estimated that the incident cost him $15,000, the resulting publicity for the American Labor Party was well worth it. Kent himself decided to run for Congress on the American Party ticket, but to no one’s surprise, was not elected.
In 1969, lightening struck the house at Asgaard, and burned it to the ground. Rockwell and Frances rebuilt a smaller home on the site, where Kent, aged 87, died two years later. He is buried at Asgaard, under a slab of Vermont marble inscribed “This Is My Own.”
Come see Rockwell Kent’s milk bottle (2008.21), and more, in “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions” at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Open for the season on May 28, 2010.
In 1918, Congress passed the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, banning “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States …for beverage purposes.”
The new law was widely unpopular. One Adirondack camp owner asserted, “We looked upon Prohibition as a great disaster. There was no sense of guilt in breaking this law. Everyone we knew shared our sentiments.”
During the “dry decade,” some Adirondackers found their isolated homes and camps made perfect spots for defying the ban on alcohol. Rumrunners smuggled booze from Canada through the Adirondack Park, finding it easier to hide from or outrun Federal agents in the woods. Adirondack neighbors looked out for one another, storing contraband and secretly gathering to enjoy a variety of smuggled or home made brews. Clyde Adelbert Burris (1883-1957) lived on Pleasant Lake. Like many Adirondackers, he engaged in a variety of work to make ends meet. He worked as a painter and carpenter throughout the year. In the winter he cut and stored ice to sell to campers in the summer and made rowboats which he rented for fifty cents a day, on the honor system. During Prohibition, Clyde Burris made alcohol.
He owned and operated two stills near Pleasant Lake in Fulton County. One was located off the present-day East Shore Road “behind a big rock.” He sold whiskey by the gallon or in teacups to neighbors at “tea parties.” His granddaughter, Joyce Ploss, recalled discovering Burris’ hidden liquor bottles: “At the top of the stairs [there] was a panel which covered a secret room under the eaves. The whiskey was stored in this secret room, and we found many gallon jugs there, waiting patiently to be put to use.”
Ploss also discovered some of her grandfather’s handwritten recipes for making beer (in 6 and 20 gallon batches), and Tokay, alder berry, dandelion, and black sherry wines. His recipe for “Elder Blossom Wine”:
1 quart of blossoms with stems picked off and packed down
Pore 1 gallon of boiling water over them, let stand 1 hour then strain
Add 3 pounds sugar and let it boil a few minutes
Skim well and let stand until luke warm or about 70 [degrees]
Then add 1 grated lemmon and ½ yeast cake
Let stand in warm place for 24 hours and strain again
Then bottle but do not cork tight until it is through fermenting or the bottles will break
When it does not work any more it can be corked tight
On March 23, 1933. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Cullen-Harrison Act, which permitted the sale of certain types of alcoholic drinks. In December that year, Congress passed the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition altogether.
Come see Clyde Burris’ whiskey jug (2004.21), and more, in “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions” at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Open for the season on May 28, 2010.
In 2010 the Adirondack Museum will celebrate the food, traditions, and recipes of Adirondack residents, visitors, sportsmen, and tourists with a new exhibition called “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions.” One of the hundreds of objects featured in the exhibit is a list of supplies for a camping trip made by two New Jersey fishermen. William Pollack Meigs, Jr. and his cousin Edwin Oscar Perrin took yearly fishing trips in the Adirondacks from 1914 until 1947. Endion, on Long Lake, served as base camp. Over the years, they were accompanied by an assortment of friends and family, and left amusing handwritten accounts and photographs of their adventures. In 2009, Jonathan Murray donated his uncles’ photo album and documents to the Adirondack Museum.
Getting in and out of the woods for an extended fishing trip required careful planning. Meigs and Perrin prepared detailed lists of supplies. Food was a particular preoccupation—what to take and how much were carefully documented for each trip on the “Grub List,” which included Borden’s Milk Powder, Knorr’s Oxtail Soup, bread, chipped beef, bacon, cheese, dried apricots, onions, beans, sugar, tea, rice, prunes, oatmeal, salt, flour, dried potatoes, and—always–curry powder, whiskey, and chocolate.
The men strategically stored food and other supplies in caches along planned routes. Items in their 1946 “Calkins Cache” were “1 can beans, 1 bottle syrup…1 pt Red Eye, 1 lb Sugar—glass jar—screw top, 1 can Hygrade Sausage, 1 batch oatmeal—Tobacco tin—paraffin seal…3 lb salt—In heavy waxed cardboard…and 2 old unidentified cans paraffin sealed.”
At the end of their 1942 trip, taken with friends Ole Olsen and Albert Graff, Ed Perrin tallied up the costs for each member of the party: “You will note that the total amount paid for food was $9.17. That was the only expense we had in camp. That amounts to $2.29 per man per week, or 32 cents per day. We all agreed that we had enough grub for two weeks (or to have gotten along with half as much food), which brings the cost down to 16 cents per day per man….Actually, such a vacation is a lot less expensive than staying at home so, if business gets any worse, we will have to take a lot of trips like this just to save money.”
The men exercised some culinary imagination on that trip with ingredients on hand, making a meal of “Lobster Puree a la Calkins”:
1 can (15 ½ ) old fashioned K beans
1 fried onion
1 cup “Klim” (1/2 cup water, 4 tablespoons Borden’s Milk Powder)
2 good slices cheese, diced
1 ½ oz (about 1 jigger) Bourbon, added last
Pour on cupful [of] fried croutons
There is no record of how well this peculiar recipe tasted.
Laura Rice is Chief Curator at the Adirondack Museum. For more recipes, and Meigs and Perrin’s list, visit “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions” at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Open for the season on May 28, 2010.
Photo: “Looking crestfallen after hard day of slash thrashing and rock garden crotch splitting”: William Meigs, Edwin Perrin, Ole Olsen, Albert Graff, 1942.
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