I recently returned from our summer vacation. My wife and I both grew up in the SE Penn. city of Lebanon, adjacent to PA Dutch country. We haven't gotten back there very often though, and wanted to be sure we made time for our son to spend time with his grandparents and other relatives. In short - the trip was great. Even with NO fishing. What we really like on trips like this is the LOCAL FOOD. You know - the stuff you can't get when you move away.
As I said, we grew up in PA and stayed there until I was 30. Then, we moved to Syracuse NY for a 10 year stint. the summers are fabulous in upstate NY, but the 10 month long winters wore me out (and I LOVE winter!) The 10 months of winter might be an exaggeration, but it doesn't seem like much of one. Anyway, we moved onto the midwest 10 years ago and now live in the western 'burbs of Chicago.
When we return to visit PA, our first stop is usually Pete's Pizza in Lebanon. It was our favorite growing up and is still the best we've ever had. We always get cheesesteaks - no, they're not authentic Phillie steaks like Pat's or Geno's, but they're pretty good - miles ahead of the garbage passed off as Phila. Cheesesteaks elsewhere. Then there's the good stuff - Lebanon Bologna, chips, pretzels, and Tastykakes. I know some of you must be thinking "Bologna? We have bologna - no big deal" The typical tan colored, yucky bologna is barely even recognizable as meat, let alone a meat that makes your mouth water. It really needs to be experienced to be appreciated. My picture will have to take the place of a taste.
Seltzer's Old Fahioned Double Smoked Swet Bologna - food of the gods!
Chips? The Lebanon / Lancaster / Reading / York areas may be home to more small potato chip producers than anywhere. I don't know that for a fact, but I've never been anywhere else where a grocery store has an entire aisle loaded with up to 15 different makers of chips. The best of these (IMHO) have 3 simple ingredients: potato, salt, and lard. Perhaps not the top of the list of healthiest snacks, but they are delicious. Dieffenbach's, Good's, Ray and Kay's, Grandma Utz, Groff's, Bickell's - all great. Comparing these chips to the national fare like Lay's is akin to comparing prime aged angus beef to roadkill.
Pretzels? the Julius Sturgis pretzel factory in Lititz is famous for their wonderful pretzels and you can get fresh soft pretzels at the factory. But my favorite pretzel is from a tiny producer in Lebanon - Shuey's Pretzels. They are sold only in the local Farmers Market or directly from the baker. Saturday is soft pretzel day - get there early or you'll be out of luck. Great pretzels.
Tastykakes are made in Philadelphia and found only in the PA / MD / Jersey area - until recently. We now get a FEW varieties out in the midwest. They are pies, sweets, baked goods going by names like Krimpets (with their butterscotch icing) and Kandy Kakes. When you grow up eating these treats, you miss them when you can't get them.
Our attachment to NY foods isn't as deeply rooted, but there are a few key things we miss. First and foremost are spiedies. Spiedies are actually from Binghamton, but we enjoyed them in Syracuse , too, and are staples at the NY State Fair. Simply put, the y are chicken strips soaked in a vinegar and herb marinade and grilled, usually on a kabob. the key, of course, is the marinade. I brought back 8 bottles of marinade from our trip! (There are spiedies marinating in our frig right now) Beef on weck - a Buffalo specialty with thin sliced roast beef on a salted kummelweck roll - wasn't on the agenda this trip, but I WILL get one sooner or later!
So - what are the local foods you can't live without? If you've never moved, you might not even know! We never realized that potato chips were lousy in other parts of the world until we couldn't get our favorites.
My motto - if I can't be fishing, I might as well eat!!! Hope I didn't alienate too many people.