By Samantha Schwalm
Summer is a wonderful time for entertaining with food, family and friends.I spent time this summer in the Thousand Islands, located on the border between New York and Canada, where Lake Ontario flows into the St. Lawrence River. Chicago native and inventor of the passenger rail car, George Pullman, was one of the many famous summer residents. He was captivated by the beauty and unique topography of the area, and hosted President Grant on his island during its famous fishing season. A neighbor of Pullman was George Boldt, the owner and general manager of the Waldorf Astoria in New York City and the Belden Stratford in Philadelphia. While Boldt may be better known locally for building Boldt Castle, a Rhine-inspired castle built on an island in the middle of the St Lawrence, his contribution to the food community is even larger!
This is a St. Lawrence skiff–it is very rare to see one on the water–it is completely made of wood, and very special in the area.
Shore dinners are a long-standing tradition in the Thousand Islands. Fishing guides would combine their client’s freshly caught perch and small mouth bass with locally grown ingredients, usually on an inhabited island.
With the addition of a dollop of 1000 Islands dressing, the perfect shore dinner.
The recipes of these fishing guides have become traditional fare for the area: pan-fried fresh fish, locally grown corn and “salt” potatoes. While there are many “fish stories” about how Thousand Island dressing was created, a favorite is one where Boldt’s chef needed a sauce to serve with the fresh fish and combined the ingredients we know today. Boldt and his dinner guests enjoyed it so much, the recipe was immediately sent down to the chef of the Waldorf Astoria, and the rest is history!
Simple 1000 Island Dressing:
1 cup mayo
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup dill pickle relish
Salt & pepper to taste
Although we are far from the Gilded Era of the Thousand Islands, we enjoy casual evenings cooking for friends and family. When entertaining in the summer, try to keep it fresh and simple. A favorite appetizer from this summer was tortellini pasta, basil leaf and locally grown heirloom cherry tomato layered on a toothpick. Utilizing an eggplant for delivery resulted in a simple and visually beautiful appetizer.
Fresh fish or seafood and simple salads in the summer, made from light and fresh ingredients are perfect for warm evenings. It is easy to get inspired walking around a garden of vegetables or herbs, which led to a chicken dish I created for dinner with parsley, basil, thyme, oregano, lemon and garlic. The herbs were simply chosen from walking around to see which herbs looked best.
Often, the best place to find fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs in the summer is through a local farmers market. “The River,” as the locals call it, has a lot of local farms and a large Amish population, providing ample opportunity to source fruits such as blueberries and strawberries; a cornucopia of vegetables; and fresh herbs. Find a local butcher or source for seafood, and you will be rewarded with an amazing meal for friends or family.
Forrest Schwalm picking blueberries.
Whether you are in the Thousand Islands, city or suburbs of Chicago, everyone should be seeking out farmers markets in their area, where you can find locally grown food. I recommend you take advantage of foods only available in summer, such as tomatoes, mushrooms and honey made locally, as it is not only healthier, but will make your dishes taste better.
Preparing chicken with herbs for friends.
Go find your market, get inspired and get cooking!