My memories of the Hudson Valley played a big part in spending some time there this summer, the memories of never having seen it in person. I had driven many times along the Hudson Parkway from New York to Connecticut realizing the nearby valley but never seeing it. Even more, I had seen and experienced drives by the valley through the screen; black and white footage of movie stories that shuttled between New York and Connecticut. Reading about the farm to table food movement in the area also played a part.
The character of the rented house with old, slightly uneven, clean wooden floors, illustrations of hand printed menus, music from a gramophone player, soft lighting and a cozy kitchen was appealing, and the arrival of friends made it more so.
Getting out the car while seeing the farmers market come alive in the town square; looking up and around, not seeing the mountains or valley yet feeling its nearby presence; popping blueberries into the mouth and smiling thinking how these were just as enjoyable as the ones in Virginia yet different; waiting to buy savory pastry while the seller was in no hurry to finish a conversation with friends she said she was meeting after sometime; picking-up a bunch of herbs called “summer herbs” that I’d never seen before but which tasted distantly familiar; buying a bottle of milk from a milkman for an amused three-year old who was steadily finishing a small quart of blueberries as we strolled through the market; sitting on the steps of an old building eating a miscellaneous collection of breakfast from the market; going multiple times into a narrow store because the flavors of the food often resulted in nodding heads and smiling faces; realizing the appeal of local goat cheese and honey with peaches for breakfast because that’s what we had in the bag from the market; having a bowl of yogurt (with honey and blueberries) while reading the names of cows that provided the milk much to the delight of the three-year old; allowing the mind to meander to a breakfast memory from another valley, from another country, that also celebrated yogurt, honey and berries; walking into the kitchen during an all-friends-cook evening to see a team of two, one lifting large washed chard leaves one by one to gently pat dry before handing them over to the other; noticing the droplets of water on the peaches thanks to the shaft of early morning sunlight pouring onto the kitchen counter; and in a moment that seemed to bring movie memories to life, driving to Connecticut from New York along the Hudson to be then entertained with delicious home-cooked meals at the table.
Driving back home to Virginia, my wife and I relived our vacation, and sure enough the landscape and flavors came to mind but what also came to mind was how nice the people were, especially strangers. In an old diner in a small town, tight for space in the dining car interior where we were the only international-looking people, what I remember most is the smiling face of the host and hostess and the manner in which they talked to us about the menu and the diner. An uniformed law enforcement officer and another man at the local grocery store stopped their conversation to say hello to me as I passed by. In the town of Hurley, New York, on a quiet day, when we knocked on the door of a small antique shop wondering if we could walk by the old Dutch stone houses in town and maybe hear a little about their history, an elderly lady responded to our knock, listened to our question, and decided to give us a personally guided tour of her early eighteenth-century stone house, a big part of which was the kitchen and the dining room; on our way out, her parting words were to tell me that when her mother moved to this country many, many years ago from the East, the one thing she did not want to leave behind was an old copper pot. The lady’s only request was for me to tell others about the town of Hurley, to which I will add, and the people who live in it.