As a long-time freelance food writer, Judith Hausman has written about every aspect of food, but local producers and artisanal traditions remain closest to her heart. Eating close to home takes this seasonal eater through a journey of delights and dilemmas, one tiny deck garden, farmers’ market discovery and easy-as-pie recipe at a time. She writes from a still-bucolic but ever-more-suburban town in the New York City ‘burbs.
Photo by Judith Hausman
What does the Hungry Locavore bring home from her travels? Local specialties, of course! Food souvenirs are fun to buy, encourage story-telling at home and are use-up-able, unlike those straw market beach bags or tiny Eiffel towers that just shout, “What was I thinking?”
Now, I do live outside of New York City where you can get everything (no, really, everything … believe me!) — all I’ve schlepped home and more. So why bother? Because as much as the taste or luxury of the souvenir, I treasure the search, the interaction and the memories that come up in sharing those finds with friends at home.
I have, in fact, seen Maggi porcini soup cubes (my secret ingredient for mushroom soup or risotto) in a good local Italian deli nearby, but what fun to look for them in a neighborhood in Milan or a supermarket in Florence, pretending to shop like a local. The great story I can tell my guests was thrown in for free with the heart-shaped, ash-covered goat cheese I brought home from Paris. The cheesemonger asked if I wanted to have a hard heart or a soft heart when I picked it out! (“Personal Use” is the gray area for bringing cheese through customs, by the way).
When I sip jasmine tea, I can recall the shy shop girl in the quiet Beijing tea shop, who tried to figure out my Chinese-American friend’s accent. We smelled and selected several teas, and I know we made her day with our purchase. I won’t forget my last stop on the way to the Munich airport at a bakery that specialized in big, brown rounds of chewy rye. That way, it was as fresh as possible when I unpacked it from my duffel at home. Black cardamom pods, masala for grilled meats and packets of biryani seasoning came home from India with me. The wife of a professor accompanied us through her own market, directing us which to buy.
I’ve never had trouble packing the food souvenirs to bring back. I wrap them in a precautionary plastic bag and then cradle them in layers of laundry. Of course, most jars and bottles will need to be checked through.
Domestic food souvenirs are even easier to transport: huckleberry jam from the Pacific Northwest, Meyer lemons from a friend’s California tree, dried Hatch chilies from New Mexico and, hey, real New York bagels travel beautifully. I once took them to Norway for a homesick friend and ate them on a Bergen hilltop with locally smoked salmon.
If you’re traveling by car, never leave home without a little cooler and some cold packs. You never know when you might run across something yummy (I brake for cherries, for example) to chat about with the grower or producer and then to show off at home, complete with a bonus story. This year, I brought back Maine honey, purchased directly from the curly-haired beekeeper, and Martha’s Vineyard smoked bluefish, caught when those dagger-toothed fish were running just offshore. The only thing is, I don’t think the extra pounds I brought back from New England oysters, lobsters and cheeses count as food souvenirs, do they?