Monday, November 2, 2009

Local Flavors

Happy Halloween! While people of all ages dressed up, went trick-or-treating, and ate candy, I dressed up in many layers, went canoeing and bird watching, and ate fried pickles. But I'll get to that part in a little bit.

This is the last trip of the season for Ryan's canoe and kayak rental business, and it's one of my favorites. The put in is in English Lake, Indiana, on the Kankakee, about 1.5 hours drive from Chicago. It was cold and windy, but the sun stayed out most of the time.

About 8 miles later, we took out at Dunn's Bridge and hightailed it before sunset to the Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area, where thousands of sandhill cranes gather for a few months in late summer and fall on their way south.

Every day around this time of year, these social birds fly into a massive swampy field at dawn and dusk, where they hang out, gets some drinks (of water), and go dancing - they perform a courtship ritual that involves bowing, jumping, calling, and flinging grass - as deer graze on the outskirts of the wetlands. For the rest of the day and night, the cranes leave the field to scavenge for such local delicacies as corn and insects.

The sights and sounds are awesome. As the cranes fly in they drop their skinny legs like airplanes lowering their wheels while the air vibrates with trilling calls. Ryan recently heard that The Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum, who grew up in the area, modeled the call of the flying monkeys after the cranes. Even if it's not true, that's a good depiction of what the birds sound like.

By the time the sun dips behind the trees and the sky clears of cranes, we are ready to experience our own local delicacy - fried pickles from the Kniman Tap! Except for pizza, almost every item on the menu is fried, from jalapenos to perch to my favorite, curly fries.

Since I've gone on this trip a few times, I have learned a thing or two about eating fried pickles, so allow me to dispense some of my wisdom...

...Exercise extreme caution when biting into a fried pickle, because it's easy to inadvertently pull the pickle out of its fried outer layer with your teeth, leaving nothing but a hollow shell. So make sure to bite all the way through so you can experience the satisfying flavor combination that is fried and pickle.

...It is easy to show up ravenous after a day on the river and crane watching and consume numerous fried pickles in one sitting. I had three myself, in addition to some fried cauliflower, a fried mushroom, and a fried mozzarella stick before my hamburger and curly fries showed up. This isn't necessarily a bad thing at the time, but it can make for an uncomfortable drive home if you overdo it (which I did).

If fried everything isn't the sort of local flavor that you like, there are other options.

In fact Ryan came home after yesterday's trip with a dozen eggs, a bag of onions and potatoes, a jar of honey, and some pumpkins from a local farm. He saw a sign that advertised eggs and pulled over. It was easy as that to get a taste of the local flavors.


Rachel said...

linds, those are GORGEOUS photos! fried pickles...yum.

Lindsay said...

Thanks Kleiners! Remember the fried mars bars that we had in Brooklyn? Now, those were GOOD.


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