The day after Thanksgiving, Dave and I escaped town to go all the way down the road to Rochester. We whizzed by Waterloo Premium Outlets, noting that the place was so full on “Black Friday” (why is it black?), cars were parked on the grass. In an attempt to get to our hotel, we ended up in a traffic jam on a state road between two other malls. Needless to say, we don’t “do” Black Friday.
The next day, we went to the Genesee Country Village & Museum, southwest of Rochester. It was a cold November day, threatening snow. The entrance fee was considerably discounted as many of the buildings were closed. But the ones that were open were plenty for a two-hour stroll, as each one had some activity going on appropriate for the season. In one we learned about how hot chocolate was made, in another a woman was rendering lard. Because this was just the right weather for slaughtering, a pig was being butchered in a couple other spots. You want it to be quite cold so the meat doesn’t spoil while it’s being prepared. We learned how various parts of the pig are used for making sausage.
All of this is in a very large area chockablock with 18th- and 19th-century buildings that have been saved from surrounding towns. You truly leave the 21st century behind when you step through the gateway and into the village green. All the volunteers are wearing authentic clothing, some of which is made from cloth made right there. We were fascinated to learn how the spinning and weaving is done. The feel of the fabrics was exquisite and the patterns beautiful and intricate.
We learned from the blacksmith where iron came from – it started with wood in the Adirondacks and was quite a complex process. We enjoyed a very long conversation with a fellow brewing beer in a three-story building completely taken up with the brewing process. Everyone was friendly and helpful. The store of knowledge at this village is impressive, and I found myself grateful that these people had taken the time to preserve this knowledge.
The whole time we were walking around, we saw people walking while eating hot potatoes. As the walking and the cold increased our appetites, I became obsessed with the idea of finding the source of these steaming potatoes. It was more fun to look for them than to simply ask someone. Finally we found ourselves out past the cow shed at the edge of the village. We’d somehow missed the potato purveyor! So we trudged back up through the center of the village and finally saw Hosmer’s Inn, a candle shining in the window. This being a cold day, all doors were closed, as was the door of the inn, and we knew it was getting late. Not seeing the overly-bright signage that we’re so accustomed to, it was with some trepidation that we tried the latch.
We were in luck: it was still open. We stepped in to what must be one of the most elementally satisfying scenes: rooms of people eating a meal and in every room a fire burning in the fireplace. Women in period dress were serving and tending the fires. Back in the kitchen men and women were cooking. We found a table directly in front of a fire and gratefully sat down to warm ourselves. In due time, we ordered the snack we wanted: chili for Dave, beet-pickled egg for me and a huge, steaming buttered potato for us to share. Our drink of choice: hot mulled cider.
The peace and simplicity of that meal still bring waves of satisfaction as I remember them. The food was outstanding. Not at all complicated, but food at its best: simple quality ingredients prepared authentically. A candle burned on our table, putting out a slight scent of wax. We warmed up in that way peculiar to a fire-warmed room – one side at a time. We put our feet up on the grate to warm the soles of our shoes and sipped the hot cider as the snow began to fall. The bill for all this pleasure: six dollars.
Later that night we had a wonderful, expensive meal. It was delicious. It was complicated. And I think the meal we had in the 19th century will turn out to be the more memorable.