Culinary Trails in the United States

Elizabeth and Andy Beyer’s drive along California’s Sonoma Valley Wine Trail was a lifelong dream. They satisfied their love for the beverage during tastings at favorite vineyards. It was food that tempted Mary and Roger Nicholson to visit Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou. They sampled traditional dishes like fresh-from-the-sea food and lip-smacking desserts.

A taste for history prompted Linda Thomas and Harry Palmer to explore the First State National Historical Park in Delaware. Sites there bring to life chapters of the state’s, and country’s, history.

Many people follow some of the 300 or so wine trails in the United States, combining treats for their palate with excursions to towns and through scenic countryside. Fewer know that many other routes provide introductions to interests ranging from covered bridges to civil rights, and from berries to bourbon.

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The Cajun Bayou Food Trail celebrates the area’s rich gastronomic culture. Stops include restaurants that serve favorites like gumbo, jambalaya and pecan pralines. Some family-run eateries follow recipes that have been passed down for generations. (For more information log onto lacajunbayou.com.)

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Part of the First State National Historical Park’s story deals with the diversity of European immigrants who settled the area. Dutch, Swedes, Finns, English and Germans created a melting pot of cultures.

Old Swedes’ Church was built in 1698-1699 using bricks that served as ballast in ships that brought colonists from Sweden. From 1732 to 1777, Delaware’s colonial assembly met in the New Castle Court House.

The John Dickinson Plantation (1740) was the boyhood home of the primary author of the Articles of Confederation and one of the drafters of the U.S. Constitution. The surrounding fields were used for growing tobacco and grain. (nps.gov/frst)

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The Dickinson Plantation isn’t the only trail location where food is part of the story. Restaurants along the Oyster Trail in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama serve bivalves in traditional ways as well as a wide choice of imaginative offerings including barbequed, fire roasted, Alfredo-style and in ceviche.

Variety of a different kind greets visitors to the Fields of Gold Farm Trail in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. People may stroll through a farmers’ market, tour a working spread, feast at field-to-table restaurants and pick their own fruit at an orchard.

Fresh-picked fruit also is sold at 28 stands located along the Hood River County Fruit Loop at the foot of Majestic Mt. Hood in Oregon. The 35-mile trail passes through forests, farmlands and orchards. Vendors also offer flowers, pies and homemade jam.

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Berries are used in a very different way in Surry County, North Carolina. The Surry Sonker Trail connects places – including a bakery, general store and winery – which serve that strangely named dessert.

It’s believed that the treat was created in the early 1800s by homemakers seeking ways to stretch the use of fruit, or use it before it rotted. Recipes include fruit sweetened with sugar, molasses and other ingredients blended into unshaped dough, so like snowflakes no two are exactly alike.

Where there’s food there often are beverages, and the birthplace of one is acclaimed along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Guests visit a distillery that chars barrels to add flavor and another which allows visitors to pick their own bottle off the assembly line. There also are opportunities to treat your taste buds to unique offerings like bourbon truffles.

Those who prefer the word “soft” before their drink may follow the “Coca-Cola Trail.” Places related to that popular beverage are described in a book of the same name, which can serve as a guide to museums, historic bottling plants and other destinations around the country.

The story began in Vicksburg, C where “Coke” was first bottled in 1894. Other stops can include the Dawson & Stevens Diner in Grayling, Michigan, which doubles as a Coca-Cola museum; a former bottling plant in Los Angeles that was built to resemble an ocean liner, and outdoor “ghost signs” advertising Coke that were painted decades ago and have been refurbished.

Some states double down on the trails concept. For example, Maine has a Sculpture Trail that leads to 34 outdoor art works located along 273 miles of its coastline; a Thoreau-Wabanaki Trail, which includes canoe routes the author followed during trips to that state, and a Freedom Trail in Portland that leads to sites associated with the Underground Railroad and the anti-slavery movement.

Ohio also touts a choice of tantalizing trails. They include routes which focus upon interests as diverse as ghosts, covered bridges, ice cream and donuts.

Given the love of nature by many residents of Oregon, it’s not surprising that among trails within its borders are paths for hiking and biking, seeing wildlife and wild flowers. Most famous is a stretch of the Oregon Trail, the historic route that began in Missouri which an estimated 400,000 farmers, ranchers and others followed in their quest for a new life.

Other pages of the past are turned during drives to see “quilt blocks” that adorn the sides of 60 barns in Oregon’s Tualatin Valley. Some designs on the eight-by-eight-foot wooden slabs resemble traditional quilt patterns, while others display crops or animals, or relate to the farm family’s history.

From seafood to sweets, berries to beverages, it’s possible that somewhere in the country there’s a trail focused upon a favorite interest of yours.