We keep souvenirs as reminders of our travel experiences. In Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote about American travelers on a late 19th-century grand tour who took souvenirs by using a hammer to crack pieces from renowned architecture and statuary.
Of course, that kind of behavior is totally unacceptable. Fortunately, foodie souvenirs tend to be gastronomic, appealing to our senses of taste and smell and serving as powerful memory triggers. Some culinary souvenirs have even become staples in my larder.
My first gastronomic travel keepsake came from a trip to Montross, on Virginia’s Northern Neck. I went to interview the owner of Carver’s, a venerable, family-owned soft drink bottling company. For generations, they used real ginger extract and cane sugar to make their premium Carver’s Original and sharper, more aggressive Northern Neck ginger ales. Carver’s ginger ales tasted like wanton kisses, biting at the tongue and tingling on the palate. I became an instant fan and returned from that assignment with several cases of Carver’s in the back of my car. Visits to family in Norfolk enabled me to stay well supplied for many years.
Perhaps my favorite culinary memento — chile peppers — sparks recollections of New Mexico. Visiting Chimayo on the high road to Taos and dining on green chile cheeseburgers at the iconic Buckhorn Tavern south of Albuquerque were my early chile education. I did more “chile 101” research at Mi Casita Restaurant in Silver City. And there’s a jar of green chiles from Hatch, New Mexico, in the fridge at home. Unfortunately, I’ve run out of dried chiles from Santa Fe, but I just received two packets of seeds to grow my own “souvenirs.”
Skyr is a recent souvenir. A mainstay of the Icelandic diet since the Vikings, skyr is technically a fresh sour-milk cheese, very similar in consistency to yogurt. High in protein and low in fat, fresh skyr has a slightly sour flavor with enough sweetness to balance. My introduction to cool, crisp, and silky-smooth skyr at an Iceland dairy convinced me it is ideal for breakfast. Returning home, I found that many of the larger chain supermarkets carry several flavors of skyr alongside the yogurts.
The gastronomic souvenir that I use most often reminds me that places like Bisbee, Arizona, do indeed exist. Just north of the border with Mexico, this ex-mining town has evolved into a community focused on crafts, creativity, and tourism. The town’s Saturday “Peddlers’ Alley” offers an opportunity for locals to literally show their stuff.
Alongside the jewelers and potters and a beekeeper selling killer-bee honey, a guy was brewing espresso and pouring shots for anyone interested. I tried one and then another, and I have been drinking Old Bisbee Roasters’ coffees ever since. Owner Seth Appell searches the world for small farms and cooperatives producing unusual and high-quality coffees. He ships the fresh roasted beans while they are still warm.
Every morning, I brew two cups of memories of that very unique place and the adventures involved in visiting. But isn’t that what souvenirs are for?
2 to 3 ears corn on the cob
1 teaspoon fresh, coarsely ground dried red chile pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seed
1 clove fresh garlic (about 1 teaspoon), minced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (2 small limes)
1 teaspoon lime zest
1/4 cup cilantro, fresh, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the corn and remove the kernels from the cob. Heat the lime juice, butter, minced garlic, and cumin until the butter melts. Add the corn, red pepper, and salt and pepper, and toss to mix thoroughly, sautéing for 1 or 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, mix in the lime zest and cilantro, and serve immediately.
Reed Hellman is a professional writer living in Alberton, Maryland. Email your questions and comments to RHWay2Go@gmail.com.