Benjamin Franklin, in his Poor Richard’s Almanack, famously said, “Eat to live, don’t live to eat.” But what about traveling to eat? With his love for French food, he’d likely approve.
According to the 2013 American Culinary Traveler study by the World Food Travel Association, more than 39 million leisure travelers a year journey expressly for food, and another 35 million consider themselves opportunistic culinary travelers.
Wine trails have been around for decades, but culinary travelers today are looking for food that perfectly expresses a place’s culture, traditions and flavors and that can’t be found anywhere else.
In some cases, that may be a single food item, such as New Mexico’s green chile cheeseburger, the Mississippi Delta’s hot tamale or South Carolina’s sweet tea. Other states showcase food trails with a dizzying array of variations of a basic theme, like Maui’s volcanic-soil produce, Indiana’s pies or New Hampshire’s ice cream.
Hoosier Pie Trail
When a state has an official state pie, you know there has to be a certain reverence and expertise in piemaking.
Though the sugar cream pie at Wick’s Pies in Winchester holds the official state pie title, any Hoosier — the local name for someone from Indiana — will tell you there’s plenty of pie to try.
“We’ve got graham cracker pies and banana cream pies that are nearly a foot tall with all of the meringue,” said Melanie Maxwell, executive director of the Decatur County Visitors and Recreation Commission.
Seasonality, particularly with berries, is an important factor for Hoosier pies.
“Stone Hearth Cafe in Centerville is famous for their blackberry,” said Maxwell. “In Greensburg, there’s a lady who has been making their pies from scratch for probably 15 years, and it really depends on the season. She has a famous strawberry pie that only runs for a short time.”
At Storie’s on Main Street in Greensburg, groups can book the section near the front window to look out on the town’s iconic treetop building, where a tree grows from the top of the county courthouse, while the “pie lady,” Jane Storie, explains the history of the Hoosier pie.
Some locations, notably the Bread Basket in Danville, will do a piemaking demonstration for groups with advance notice. Many of the restaurants or larger locations have separate meeting rooms available for groups to do a pie tasting.
In January, Indiana Foodways Alliance runs a pie-eating contest that features the top Hoosier pies. All the information required to plan transportation, parking and reservations is captured on the comprehensive pie trail webpage.
Sweet Tea Trail
Summerville, South Carolina
Though the exact creator of sweet tea has not been identified, historians have used military supply orders and botanical archives to trace its origin to Summerville, South Carolina, around 1847.
Tea initially made its way to the southern United States in the late 1700s not as a food product but as an object of botanical study, along with other varieties of camellias, azaleas and gardenias planted at the site now known as Middleton Place Plantation. One of three plantations on the trail, Middleton still holds the original gardens, which are the oldest landscaped gardens in America and a national historic landmark.
According to Tina Zimmerman, coordinator of tourism for Greater Summerville and Dorchester County, the plantations and archaeological site, colonial Dorchester, along the Ashley River are an integral part of the Sweet Tea Trail and demonstrate the culture that created sweet tea long before it was initially thought to have been introduced during the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904.
The trail begins downtown, where antique dealers serve sweet tea to visitors. Although typically this is only done for the public on the second Sunday afternoon of the month, groups can call ahead to organize the service at locations such as the Tea Farm Cottage and This Whole House Tearoom. After a visit to colonial Dorchester, Middleton Place, the first of the three plantations, groups can arrange private group dining at indoor and outdoor locations throughout the estate.